Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Getting to Know Your Main Character

Week of April 22, 2012—Creating Characters Kids Love with Joyce Sweeney
April 25, 2012—Getting to Know Your Main Character

You’ve heard of interviewing a main character or doing a biographical sketch of a main character. At our seminar with Joyce Sweeney, she suggested answering as many of the following questions about your main character as possible. These questions were developed for folks who write picture books through YA novels, so some may seem “out there” from a picture book perspective. But I found the list very helpful.

Joyce Sweeney’s 25 Questions to Get to Know Your Main Character
1. What trait(s) makes the reader identify with your Main Character (M/C)?
2. What quality(ies) of your M/C will readers admire?
3. What is entertaining about your M/C?
4. Which of your M/C's character flaws must be overcome in this story?
5. What does your M/C do when stressed?
6. What peculiarities of language does your M/C use?
7. What habitual gestures does your M/C make?
8. What stories about him/herself does your M/C tell repeatedly?
9. Does s/he like music? If so, what kind?
10. How does your M/C escape reality?
11. To whom does your M/C tell his/her darkest secrets?
12. Whom or what does you M/C hate?
13. Of whom is your M/C envious?
14. What is your M/C's passion?
15. What is his/her favorite social mask?
16. When is your M/C likeliest to lie?
17. What remains unfinished for your M/C at story's outset? At story's end?
18. Who/what is your M/C's god/G-d?
19. What will reader disapprove of about your M/C?
20. What would the other characters in the story say about your M/C?
21. Are those things true?
22. What is your M/C unable to see about him/herself?
23. How does that affect the story?
24. What does your M/C seek but never find?
25. How did undergoing his/her story make your M/C better/stronger?

I asked Joyce when a writer should use a list like this. Do you do it before you start writing? As you’re working on a story? When you’re trying to convince an editor you really know your character? (LOL!) Joyce said that you use a writing tool when you need it. Often when writers are stuck and don’t know where to go with a story line, a plot, a character, stopping and using a writing tool, like the one above, can give the insights needed to take the next step forward in the writing. I like that idea. After all, it seems like most characters reveal themselves over time. The more time you spend with them, the more you know and the more you know that you need to know.

Another insight from Joyce—when you explore a character, you don’t have to put everything you discover into your writing. You’re trying to learn as much about your character as possible, but just like with a good friend, you won’t share everything you know with a total stranger. 

Try Joyce’s twenty-five questions on for size. They just might fit!

Visit Joyce’s web site at:

1 comment:

Tina Cho said...

Great questions. I'm copying this down! Thanks for sharing!