9 Unique Ways to “Meet” Your Characters
Whether you’re on your first draft or tenth, there’s always something new to learn about your characters. Just like us, relatable characters have hopes, fears, goals, pet peeves, and more—the challenge is making all those pieces fit together.
If you’re at a loss when it comes to elevating your characterization, here is a list of unique ways to “meet” your characters to spark some creativity! I’ve often found focusing on senses other than sight (what a character looks like) helps to flesh out who a character is as a person.
1. Listen to Music.
Hop on your favorite streaming service (looking at you, Spotify 😉 ) and choose a genre / playlist you feel roughly fits the vision for your character. Close your eyes and listen through the songs on the playlist. Maybe a specific lyric catches your ear or the sound of a certain band is exactly what you think your character would listen to.
2. Peruse Pinterest.
Pinterest is teeming with aesthetic board opportunities. Type in a keyword that describes your story and “+ aesthetic” to get a few jumping off points. From there, follow the pins in the “More Like This” section or create a new search and build out a board full of characterization ideas.
3. Interview Your Character.
Find a list of “first date” or “get to know you” questions and answer as your character. It might feel tedious, but treat every answer you give like a mini-story. When you’ve completed the interview, you can either keep or rewrite the answers. Just because you’ve spoken an idea into existence doesn’t mean you have to stick to it—give yourself and your character room to grow!
4. Cook a Meal with Your Character.
Food is part of every person’s life—even fictional ones. You don’t have to literally cook a meal to get something out of this exercise, but think about how eating a meal with your character would go. Do they have food allergies? Do they have a favorite flavor of ice cream? Maybe they hate red sauce on pizza or only eat the green M&Ms. Decide if your character likes to cook or prefers to order take out. Are they reckless with a recipe or follow it to a T? You can learn much more than just eating habits when you examine how someone interacts with food.
Admittedly there aren’t too many places to go safely in a pandemic, but open spaces like parks and beaches are great, socially-distanced ways to get out of your own head and into someone else’s. People watching allows you to observe humans as an outsider and gather ideas for how your characters can interact while they’re alone or around others.
The best advice for writers is to read. Study how other authors introduce characters and analyze your favorites to understand why those characters are so relatable. In addition to reading fiction, non-fiction craft books can also help you grow in certain aspects of your writing. If you’re looking for a bite-sized bit of help, I suggest Scribbler’s Writing Passport, Volume 10: Characters.
7. Go Candle-Smelling.
Senses are important! Go to your nearest store that sells a variety of candles (for me, it’s Walmart) and spend some time sniffing the different scents. Maybe your character’s childhood house always smelled like Christmas trees so the scent of Balsam Fir makes them feel at home. Maybe your character had a bad experience at their town’s fall fair so the smells of cotton candy or popcorn turn their stomach.
8. Shop For Your Character.
What type of shopping, you ask? Any kind! Shop for furniture for their residence, a new wardrobe, get groceries, or birthday present shopping. What would your character buy for themselves versus what would they ask for from someone else? Would they ask someone else to buy something for them?
9. Be Still and Listen.
So often as writers we feel the need to go, go, go—if we’re not writing, we need to be reading, or drafting, or editing, or posting on social platforms, or networking, or querying… it gets overwhelming! As such, taking a moment to breathe and quiet your mind can bring about new breakthroughs in characterization.
The more human you can make your characters, the better. Relatable quirks like some of the ones mentioned above, in addition to engaging all the senses when describing a character, invites your reader to find themselves or someone they love in the characters you create. And what is writing if not bringing everyone to a deeper understanding with each other, am I right?
Good luck, future bestseller! You’ve got this.