Getting to Know your Characters

How do you get to know your characters’ every facet? I know lots of writers who construct intricate character sheets with every possible piece of information about the major characters. These can be a useful crib sheet, but a person is not their star sign or favourite colour. They don’t help you get to the heart of who a person is.

Before starting on a new manuscript, I like to get to know the characters as well as I can. Stories often start with a scene for me, and I’ll work out from there until I have the framework of the plot. I like to focus on moments of strong character interaction, because once I know the people involved and how they react to each other, the plot is driven by their decisions and motivations. This, of course, goes for protagonists and antagonists.

Once I think I have a handle on them, I like to run them through a setting or scenario that has nothing to do with the plot. Just something simple, like going shopping. (For the purpose of the excessive, I assume they know what a supermarket is, rather than declaring automatic doors and self-service checkouts magic or devilry.) I ask myself is this person someone who makes a written list or one who commits their shopping needs to memory? Are they swayed by bargains? Do they take their time or  hurry through? Do they go to a cashier or choose self-service? Do they have any idiosyncrasies, like pretending to look at another product because someone is standing in the way of the one they want to buy, or rearranging the jars of spices to spell out things like boobies?

I find running through a scenario where interactions (or lack of them) are the focus is better for getting into a characters head than simply listing facts about them, How about you?Any techniques for getting to know your characters? Do share!

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