Writing teachers often say to answer 100 questions about your character. Things like:
What does she always keep in her pockets?
What does she eat for breakfast?
What secret does she keep even from her closest friends?
And the list goes on.
Now, don't get me wrong. These are all valid questions to ask. Often a bit bland or tedious, but completes the objective either way - to teach you the writer about your character.
Often I don't particularly appreciate answering those questions. They don't teach me a lot about my characters as much as crawling into their skins would.
Today I want to share a tactic I designed with you that allows me to crawl into my characters and be them for a moment in time.
We learn a lot more from storytelling than writing down facts on paper. As a writer, it's less important to me to know on paper that my character is addicted to cigarettes. I want to feel her need to smoke, her frustration with trying to stop and not succeeding. And how the fact that she's a smoker affects her life experience at all. Those emotions teach me far more about her than a simple sentence in my character notes.
This method will work for you regardless of gender - but you will probably have better results with it if your character's gender correlates with your gender identity.
If you're trying to write a character of the opposite sex, seek out a person to help you out with fleshing out this character, do your best and have a person of that chosen gender review the work after you finish writing.
You walk in a corridor at home, work, the street, wherever you are right now, thinking about getting to know one of your characters better. After a few steps, you see a bright blue door. That door is not usually there, and no one can see it now. Deep inside your soul, you know it is meant for you. You open it. Blinding white light covers everything, and you are sucked in. The door closes behind you.
You don't have to do that intro once you've been doing it enough times, but this way, it sets the mood for the rest.
When the white light fades, you are now that character, standing naked in a shower, not unlike a gym's shower. There is a mirror in front of you, which is long enough to show you the entirety of your body.
You, the author, is now only an observer inside your character. They are now acting out their personality.
What is their response to seeing themselves naked? What is the shape of their face? Are they shy and cover their genitalia? How does their genitalia look like? How does the rest of the body look like? Does he or she have scars? Is he muscular? Hairy? How does he look without clothes? Is she curvaceous? Skinny? How does she look without clothes? They are looking at themselves in the mirror. How do they react? What do they say? What is their voice like? What colors are their eyes? Hair? Are they confident? Scared? Confused? How does it feel to watch them from behind their eyes? How does it feel for them to touch themselves? What do they see when they look down at the palms of their hands? Are they in any pain somewhere in the body? Are they feeling tired? What is on their mind? What else do you want to know?
When the stream of questions and answers seems to trickle instead of flow, you feel as though you have the power, as the observer, to flip a mental switch that will cause progress. Do that when you think it is time, or keep coming up with questions and answers. The more questions and answers, the more you know about the character.
Flipping the switch will cause you to leave the shower room and teleport straight into a public setting.
You have flipped the mental switch, and the mirror in front of you started glowing white-hot until the blinding light burst out from it and covered the entire room. When it fades, you find yourself fully clothed and in a market. You are selecting goods to buy.
What are you buying? What do you like to eat? What do your clothes look like? What clothes do you purchase, if any? What accessories?
As before, the mental switch presents itself and waits on you.
When you press the mental switch again, you will teleport to a different place. Do that when ready.
You have flipped the mental switch again, and now you find yourself at work. People are talking to you, reminding you that you do not exist in a void. Your life is already going on. They do not start from the moment you were conceived as a character.
Where do you work? What did you do to get accepted to that place? Do you want to be there? Who are these people talking to you? What is your relationship with them? Is any of them essential to the story? What secrets are you keeping from them? What secrets are you keeping in general?
The mental switch informs you that you will finish your little journey when you flip the switch next. Instead of ending the story, you can continue visualizing your character in different settings.
When you do this enough times, you will get to know your characters on a level of detail far more sophisticated than a barely conceived character. When you create a dialog with that character, you will intimately understand how they should respond in any given situation.
Are you ready to flip the mental switch again?
If you liked this story and would like to learn more about the art of writing fantasy, please consider purchasing my Beginner's course on Gumroad, or grabbing it for free from the rewards page for paying subscribers!
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