Do you want to know how to really get to know your characters? The answer is simple.
Pretend you are having coffee with your fictional character!
I have been using this role play method for sometime and I think it has really improved my second draft. My reviewers in November might disagree…
The thought of doing some character development can make some writers groan, as they view it as a boring writing chore. I will hold my hand up and admit to this.
For a long time I have been more focused on plot, as that is what excites me. In my head character development was just a tedious couple of hours writing lists of facial features. Ugh!
After a couple of bad draft novels I realised (the hard way!) that characters are so important to a story and it is the nuggets of character detail which really bring a story to life.
There is so much more to character development than just physical features. You have to get inside their fictional heads and understand how their emotions work.
So with this method, you visualise having a coffee with one of your characters. Treat it in the same way as meeting a new friend.
Pretending you are out having coffee is a really fun way of making this process interesting.
Plus role play is great with a real person but with an invisible person – it takes your enjoyment up to another level!
Ok so let me run through how this amazing technique works:
- Find a quiet table in your home and make some good, strong coffee. The stronger the better!
- Open up a blank notebook and have a pencil on hand.
- Sit down at table and visualise your character sat opposite you. Imagine you are both sat in a coffee shop. Take a moment to just sit and stare at what you have created.
- Scribble down what facial and hair features your eyes would pick up on if you were sat opposite them.
- Next think about smell. Would they be wearing a strong and over powering aftershave (sigh!) or perfume? Have they washed recently? Write down everything that springs to mind about smell.
- Once you have sorted physical appearance think about body language. If your character was sat opposite you in a coffee shop how would they be sitting? This says a lot about them and their current mental state. Are they sat looking all defensive with arms crossed or are they lounging in the chair. One of my characters would be ignoring me and eyeing up the ladies in the coffee shop. Bless him – he has a wandering eye!
- Write down what you think they would order in a coffee shop. I think this says a lot about a character. One of my characters always goes for a herbal tea as she struggles with her emotions.
- Ask your character how they are feeling. A good character will be a little bit troubled and be showing signs of unease (looking towards the door and avoiding eye contact). It is important to think how this conversation would play out. What would they tell you first? What would they focus on?
- Think about how your character would talk over a coffee? Would they talk fast or slow? Would they pause a lot or struggle to finish their sentences?
- As you talk things through write down as much as you can about how they would view their troubles. Do they blame themselves or others? Can they see any light at the end of the tunnel?
- Ask questions about the other characters in their lives. Think about the reaction you would get across the table if you mentioned a certain character’s name. My character with the wandering eye would probably go a little quiet or try to change the subject if I mentioned the name of my female character.
- Ask your character how they plan to spend the rest of the day. This is important as you need to know how they hang out in their spare time. My male character would probably be grinning at some pretty lady across the coffee shop so this would give me a good indication on how he plans to spend the rest of his day. Sigh!
- At the end of your coffee session think about how your character would leave the table and say goodbye. Would you get a heartfelt hug and would there be an offer to meet up again for coffee? Or would they just mutter something and walk off.
This simple method means you are left with PAGES of notes on your character.
You then weave all this wonderful character insight into your draft.
For noting: if a loved one asks you why you are talking to yourself or nodding at some invisible being just remind them that you are a writer. They will soon forget about their initial “my goodness she’s clearly nuts!” reaction.
Have a great day and if you have a spare hour or two – suggest that you and one of your characters meet up for a coffee!