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Getting to Know Your Characters by Kathy Stewart

We have author Kathy Stewart talking about Characters this week. 

Kathy Stewart on the web:

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Getting to Know Your Characters

How well do you know your characters? I don’t mean their physical description, such as their hair and eye color, but the nitty-gritty things, like how they really feel about the way their father treated them, and what effect their mother’s death had on them.

Writing teachers often say that writers fall into two categories: those who plan, and those who just wing it. Which are you?

I began my writing career by winging it, but have increasingly begun to see the value of planning. So before I even write the first word of my novel, I spend hours if not weeks nutting out the intricacies of what I feel will make an intriguing story. I also conduct copious character interviews, because the best way to build really believable characters is to allow them to speak for themselves in their own unique voices.

Before I start, I picture the character in my mind and then pose questions to them, the type of thing a reader and I would really want to know. I find that as I write down the answers the character’s authentic voice emerges. I can almost hear their accent, their inflections on certain words, and see their body language and facial expressions. When these emerge, I write them down. So if I sense a narrowing of the eyes, or hear a throat being cleared, or see the shoulders shrug, I make a note of this, as well as any reluctance the character shows in answering awkward questions. They’re all important because they give me even more clues as to my character’s true feelings and even indicate if they’re lying or feel guilty about something.

When I sense any type of prevarication, I probe deeper and ask even more awkward questions. Sometimes the characters become angry; sometimes they laugh or cry. When that happens I probe deeper. Why is the character angry? What made her laugh or cry? Is her laughter appropriate to the situation or is she showing black humour?

I do these character interviews for all my main characters, starting with my protagonist and antagonist. It does take a while but at the end of the process I have a thorough understanding of my character that goes way beyond their physical description. I also find that many parts of the interviews can later be incorporated into my novel verbatim, as they express the character’s true self in such an authentic way.

Another important point for me is to write these interviews long-hand, using traditional paper and pen. Research has shown that this taps into your creativity more effectively, and I’ve found this to be true. The words seem to flow out of me onto the page and in no time I have a few thousand words, quite unlike the stare-at-a-blank-screen that is my norm.

Whichever way works for you, though, writing long-hand or typing directly into your computer, I’m sure you’ll find doing character interviews a great way to truly get to know your characters.

Kathy Stewart has a new book out:

Mark of the Leopard

From the author of Chameleon comes this historical fiction novel, Mark of the Leopard, the second in the African history series, a story of romance, mystery, danger and betrayal set against a backdrop of wild lands and raging seas.

In 1703 Sabrina Barrington and her children are shipwrecked and presumed drowned off the Cape of Good Hope, the site of the present-day city of Cape Town. Fourteen years later, an investigator tells Sabrina’s brother, Lucien Castle, that one of his sister’s children has been seen on the island of Madagascar, off Africa’s east coast. It is imperative to return the youngster to England before his twenty-fifth birthday, otherwise his grandfather, the corrupt and detested Robert Barrington, will usurp his rightful inheritance. Castle is the only one who can confirm the young man is not an impostor. In order to do this he must leave the comfort of Amsterdam in Holland and embark on a journey into the unknown.
Will Castle be able to overcome his demons and find his nephew in time? Or will he succumb to the perils that beset his epic expedition every step of the way?
In a voyage that takes them from the untamed island of Madagascar to the storm-tossed Dutch outpost at the Cape of Good Hope, Castle and his companion must face innumerable dangers and battle not only rival investigators but also each other.

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Mark of the Leopard by Kathy Stewart

Mark of the Leopard

by Kathy Stewart

Giveaway ends December 31, 2015.
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39 comments:

  1. Great post, Kathy! I have tried character interviews before and have found them helpful.

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    1. That's great, Cherie. I find it helps a lot.

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  2. Character is hugely important to me - and can make or break a book. Character interviews sound like a great idea. Thank you.

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    1. So glad the post has been a help. If you use that technique for your next book, please let me know if it helps. Love the name Elephant's Child!

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  3. How interesting. What a fabulous book cover.

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    1. Thanks, Jo. I love the cover too. The artist did a great job!

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  4. Great advice! I don't generally write out the interviews, but I do let them walk around in my head for a week or 2 before I begin writing! :)

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    1. Thanks, Jemi. It's a great idea to let them gel in your mind for a while too.

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  5. Appreciate the insight, Kathy! Thanks so much for sharing. Wishing you well!

    Kelly, thanks for hosting Kathy today. Have a great week!

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Karen, and thanks too to Kelly!

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  6. Character interviews are fun and very helpful.

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    1. So glad you find the technique helpful too, Kelly.

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  7. Great post! I love character interviews--they can be so fun!

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    1. Thanks, Meradeth. I find I learn things about my characters I had no idea were there.

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  8. I've never written a story with characters as I write about my life... I do wing it most times. I think if I wrote stories like this I'd have to plan them.

    This story sounds interesting to me, I think I'd enjoy it becausr it was hysterical xox ♡

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    1. Good luck with your writing Launna. I hope you enjoy Mark of the Leopard.

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  9. I did fairly extensive character profiles for the book I'm working on now, and it was a lot of fun.I feel like I KNOW them intimately, so hopefully, they'll be even more well-developed than the characters who lived in my first book. :)


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    1. It's so important to know your characters well, isn't it? Glad to hear the technique works for you too.

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  10. I like the idea of doing character interviews. I didn't do that exactly with my last book, but I did do a ton of brainstorming about each character. Wishing Kathy the best of luck!
    ~Jess

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  11. Hi, Kathy! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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  12. Thanks, Squid ... or should I call you Armchair? Intriguing name! How did you come up with it? :)

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  13. Thanks, Squid ... or should I call you Armchair? Intriguing name! How did you come up with it? :)

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  14. I enjoyed reading about the process even though I'm not a writer.

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    1. That's great, Barbara. I always enjoy hearing how writers go about creating characters and plots too.

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  15. I think if you sit down and really think about your characters, you end up with a stronger story. It sounds like you have a good strategy.

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  16. I like to go half and half on my characters--know them, but give them freedom to surprise me. One of my edits is an intensive look at characters, their motivations and feelings, one character at a time. I think that's where they take on the most depth.

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    1. That sounds like an excellent strategy, Crystal.

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  17. I've done character journals, writing as the character, to get to know them better. I'm a planner.

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    1. I prefer to plan too now. I'm not sure if it saves much time or writing, though. :)

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  18. My characters develop in layers. Little by little they boss me around until I get them right. Great post!

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    1. Thanks, Emily. It sounds like you really get to know your characters. Great!

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  19. I've never been a planner, but I'm trying to get better about it. I have Scrivener and I do the character sketches now...but mostly I just want to jump in and write!

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    1. I know the feeling, but I find that planning works better for me now. There's no hard and fast rule about writing, though. We all just do what works best for us. Happy writing!

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  20. I wing my rough drafts, but plan my rewrites. And I also interview my characters, since it definitely helps me get a feel for them. :-)

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  21. It's interesting to read how writers get their stories down. Everyone is so different in how they approach their craft. This was very interesting.

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  22. Thanks. I also love reading about how other writers craft their stories. We're all so different!

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