They say that a little bit of you is within every character you write. Not just the main character – every character. But for today, let’s focus on the flawed main character, who you are putting through an interesting, compelling ordeal in order to get them to transform into a new, improved version of themselves in the end. Being able to relate to that character – to really FEEL them and get inside their skin is a key component to being able to write three dimensional characters that live and breathe right off your pages.
So here are three questions you can ask yourself to see how and where you relate to your character:
One: What Scares You? What is Unfamiliar?
What scares you about this character? What feels totally foreign and strange to you about them? Write about 100 words answering that question. Now do it again. What scares you about YOU? What part of yourself is foreign and strange to you? Write another 100 words. Don’t think – just write. What are the similarities and differences? Chances are, what is foreign and a little scary to you about your main character is a deep down part of yourself that you have never really examined. This is not a test. Nobody needs to read what you wrote. But if you can find the similarities, if you can free yourself to explore a part of yourself that you haven’t before – through your character, I guarantee your character will be more challenging, fun to write and compelling to read.
Two: Backstory, Particulars and Quirks
What do you know about your character’s backstory? About their siblings, parents and hometown? What are his or her politics? Does your character have a Facebook page or do they Twitter? Would they go to a party where they knew no one? Fill out this Proust Questionnaire for YOURSELF and see what new things you discover. Then do it again for your character. How much do you really know your character? How much do you really know yourself?
Three: Declarative Statements About What You/Your Character Wants and Feels
Answer the following declarative sentences for YOURSELF and (wait for it….) afterward, your character:
I am willing:
Keep the answers short, and again, don’t think, just write. Do you and your character have anything in common? Even if you love or hate different things – could you conjure up the feeling of that love or hate equally as well for your character?
This might sound like psychobabble or silliness but the braver you are in exploring the dark corners of yourself, what scares you, disappoints you, overcomes you with emotion – the freer you are to explore those same qualities – which are pieces of you – in your characters.
Treat yourself to Just Effing Entertain Me: A Screenwriter’s Atlas