Breathing Room

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I just wrote a breathing room scene. I’ve been surprised at how non-stop my WIP has been. If I’m tired from all the action, the characters and readers must be as well. So I wrote a breathing room scene. It should have been a pleasure to write. My MC went home to spend time with his family. He tossed his little sister, helped his mom in the kitchen, played ball with his brothers, and talked with his dad. I may have to cut some of it out, but for now, I just wrote.

However, I had a hard time not crying. It actually hurt to write this scene. Why? Because I know things the characters don’t. I know that was the last time the whole family would be together. Some are captured. Some are killed. Some grow bitter. I know this is the last moment the MC has to relax and enjoy himself for a long, long time. After this, things get crazy. And painful.

Sometimes, I feel so bad for the things my characters go through. When my MC’s mom said she was thankful the whole family was safe and together, I nearly lost it. They won’t be for long. So breathe, characters. Breathe.

The Little Things

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Ask some simple questions about your character. These may not seem important, but they help you get to know your character and can be a good reference later on (I love knowing that for a hot drink, my MC prefers tea with lemon. I’ve used that several times.)

How does your character respond to hello?

What is your character’s favorite dessert? Meal?

Does he prefer tea or coffee or neither? How does he take it?

What is her idea of a fun Friday night?

Does he have any hobbies?

What kind of music does she listen to?

Character Room

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Describe the character’s bedroom. What sorts of decorations are on the wall? What kind of furniture does she have? What sorts of collectable items are displayed? Is it messy or clean? If she shares a room, what does her roommate’s side look like? What contrasts are there? If she shares a room, does she have her own space somewhere? Knowing what your character does with her own private space can tell you a lot about her likes and dislikes but also about her personality and even how she relates to other characters (if she is really organized and her roommate is messy, how does she handle that?).

Family Background

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Pick one of the character’s family members. In this instance, I chose a sibling. What comes to mind when that sibling thinks of the character? I got this idea from a free writing prompt: What scared you? I’m not sure how I decided to write from the POV of the sibling of a secondary character, but what I wrote gave me so much insight into the secondary character that he became quite easy to write.

(Yes, these are tips to get to know ALL your characters, not just the primary ones. I’m not suggesting you do each exercise for every character, but if you are struggling with a character, try one!)

Character Background

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Write a short story of a defining moment of the character’s past. I picked a fairly mundane event when my MC was cleaning out the attic. I learned a lot about his childhood and his family that way. Another time, I wrote about a pivotal moment in the character’s youth that brought about everything that happened to him. It took place years before the story starts but is important for my understanding of the character.

Point of View Switch

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Even if your story has only one POV character, try writing a scene from a different character’s point of view. Experiencing the world through a different character can actually help you realize things about your POV character. When I added a secondary POV character to my story, I learned a lot about my primary POV character. For one thing, I learned how the other characters view him. More than that, I realized things about his voice. I learned that he is fairly introspective but is willing to talk about his thoughts to those who seem safe or will listen. I learned that he experiences the world mainly through his thoughts and emotions (in contrast to the secondary POV who experiences the world through his senses and actions).

Describing Your Character

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Describe your characters from the POV of multiple other characters. Knowing how others see your character can help you as a writer in defining him.

Describe your character without mentioning her hair or eyes. Think like Sherlock Holmes. What would Holmes know about your character just from looking at her? What about her appearance gives clues to her personality? Is there anything distinctive or defining about her appearance?

When this method really came home to me was as I was describing my MC’s little brother from an outsider’s point of view. He noted that the little boy had a skinned knee and red scratches on his arms, the kind you get climbing trees. That defines the little brother so well in just one line. Why can’t I do this for my main characters? So I set out to try it.

Happy Writing!

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