Chapter 28: 10 Questions to Ask Your Characters

Almost every novel’s top five main characters can be broken into these five categories: protagonist, antagonist, sidekick, mentor, and love interest. In a later blog, I will go into more specifics about each of these roles, but for now, I’m going to go over ten major questions to ask these characters in order to flesh them out and give your book quality characters to make the reader fully invested in their story. Some are simpler to answer than others, of course.  You might not think a name is anything more than just that, but I disagree.  I think this Japanese proverb says it best: Tigers die and leave their skins; people die and leave their names.  So without any further ado, here are the 10 questions to ask your main characters:

  1. What is their name? Every author has a different method to naming their characters. There are some other questions to consider when answering this one. What is their culture? What year is it? Some authors like to look up the meaning of names to help them decide. A good website for that is Behind The Name. If you’re writing fantasy, a good method could be finding a real name and altering it slightly. A good example of this is Eddard from Game of Thrones – changing the name Edward into a more gritty sounding name to fit the character.

  2. What role do they play to add to the plot? This can be protagonist, antagonist, sidekick, mentor, love interest, temptor/henchmen, skeptic, emotional, logical, etc. How will their existence complicate or propel forward the plot?

  3. What is their primary goal? Answering this question helps create such complicated plots like in Game of Thrones. (Can you tell I like the series from my many references?) What does their happy ending look like? What are they willing to do to achieve this goal? How does this goal align with the protagonists? How does it interfere with or what roadblocks does it bring to the protagonist’s goals? Will they get said happily ever after?

  4. What are their strengths? If they were being interviewed for their role in the plot, what would they say? A good place to start is answering if they appeal to ethos, pathos, or logos. In the terrible situations they get themselves into during the plot, how can they contribute to the plan to get themselves out of trouble or accomplish some heroic action? A good example is Hermione’s abundance of knowledge and common sense of preparation helps Harry Potter get out of several sticky situations. Another thing to think about is if there’s a trait that acts as a strength in one instance but a weakness in others. This is like how Scarlett in Caraval unconditionally loves her sister.  It gives her the strength to push past several emotionally draining situations; however, it also leaves her less cautious as she feels more desperate throughout the book.

  5. What are their weaknesses? Same as strengths, but obviously in reverse. If the story needs the character’s team to fail in that plot point, how would they contribute to that failing? Their impatience? Anger? Naivety? Cockiness? Stupidity? This is the entire principle that the series of The Agency is written around: a societal male underestimation of women that the protagonist spy takes advantage of continuously in her adventures.

  6. How old are they? This will largely contribute to several of their characteristics because the following answer must be answered: what kind of environment did they grow up in? There’s often the said cycle of: strong men lead to good times lead to weak men lead to bad times lead to strong men, and onward. Also, did they deal with certain discriminations that took place before the plot begins?

  7. What is their connection to protagonist? How do they know each other? If they have a history together, at the very least summarize it for yourself so that it can contribute to their relationship. Does the protagonist like them? Do they like the protagonist? Is there anyone in particular that they are close to or care about?

  8. What is their occupation? How a person chooses to earn money says a lot about them. Could their occupation add to the contribution of why their an asset to the team? An example of this is Philo in The Scorpion King and how is knowledge of science from his job as a court magician helps save the ‘good guys’ more than once.

  9. How will you introduce this character? Is their depiction in that first scene true to their character or do you want to give some misdirection? How much does the reader know about them at their first appearance? Do you want them to be mentioned before officially meeting them or do the readers only know what the protagonist describes at the first hello?

  10. How are they different in the beginning of the story versus the end? In order to be believable, every character needs a growth arc. A good example of this is following Claire Danvers in the Morganville Vampires series. While several of her main characteristics stay the same throughout the books, her bravery grows and her strengths against the varying antagonists shifts.

Chapter 25: Hearing From Your Readers

The hilarious screenshot you see above is from my Sarah in regards to The Freedom Game.

First I’d like to say please excuse my friend’s lovely vocabulary.  She has a wonderfully colorful mouth and the drastic inability to sugarcoat.  That second fact is what made me so beyond nervous when she originally purchased my novel.  If she didn’t like it, she wasn’t going to be able to sugarcoat it.  I would know.  While that is of course valuable to hear back honest feedback, it had me wriggling nervous since I had dedicated so much to this book.

Instead of her attempting but failing to not hurt my feelings and not enjoying then novel, however, I received texts like this.  Not only this, but I received a long snapchat video of her reading around the climax.  The video consisted of her yelling at me for what certain characters had done, and her desire to need to know what happens paired with the fear to read on in case it’s not the ending she wants to happen.  Her cheeks got red, her voice got loud – and she was midshift at her job without a care of the people staring at her.  That right there honestly made me tear up like a wimp.

But honestly, what more could an author want?  Than someone that into your story and that invested in your characters and what happens to them?  She felt betrayed by characters when they did not-so-great things, and then sounded like a proud mother when they did something shockingly heroic.

No matter if sales aren’t where you want them and marketing is more expensive than you’d like, experiences like these are what make writing so much more than worth it.

Chapter 21: Why You Should Have a Map, Even if Your Readers Don’t

I’ve shared this map before, and I’ll do it again.  Why?  Because what you see here is the only reason I have a handle on where my series is going.  The definition of epic fantasy means that you have to create a world.  It’s some authors’ strength, and others’ weakness.  Either way, it’s necessary.

If you only have one nation that your book focuses on, you can get deluded into thinking you don’t need a map.  But, here’s the thing… your world simply won’t real the readers in.  When I mention different cities in the real world, readers instantly can picture something.  If they’re unfamiliar with the city, it’s pictures they’ve seen online.  If they’ve been there, they can even imagine the city’s smells, humidity, and general ‘feel’ that is hard to convey in writing.

For example, Hero Status by Kristen Brand takes place in Miami.  Instantly, she’s already half way through her description simply by telling you the city.  Palm trees, salty air from the ocean, sweat-inducing humidity, sun so bright you’re still squinting with sunglasses on.  Then there’s the fact that her protagonist Dave is Hispanic, so you get glimpses into the predominating culture of the area.

Now, if I mention Mereu… nothing comes to your mind.  Why?  Because it’s a city in my world for this series.  You have no predispositions about it.  I have to describe everything from the ground up.  That city is very important for one of my minor characters, Rutley, and I know that he’ll be spending more time there as the series goes on.  It shapes him.

Where your characters come from, where they would go if the chaos of your plot didn’t get in the way… all of that is important.  Even if not all of the information comes up, you should have your map written down.  Before I had it professionally created, I had a rough sketch that I used as I was writing.  It reminded me of all the possibilities of where my characters could go.

With every book in my series, a new country (sometimes more than one) is added into the thick of the plot.  I already know everything about the culture of every place I will ever mention.  Why is this important?  Foreshadowing.

I feel like I’m rambling, even though this blog post isn’t that long yet.  I just want to leave you with this message: in this world, you can type into the GPS of your phone and go wherever you want.  In the fictional world you create, it’s up to you to make that a journey for your reader rather than a ‘trip from Point A to Point B’ (aka your plot points).  Take the time.  Build your world.  It’ll help built your characters and your plot.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

I need to take a moment to give props to JK Rowling on the entertainment front.  She’s literally dipped into every almost avenue possible: books, movies, amusement parks, and the stage.  (Pictured is my best friend, Courtney, standing outside the stage of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in London England.)  Being an author is (sadly) about more than just writing good work.  You have to think about it as a business.  Not necessarily in the same way as Rowling.  But here’s the question I give you: how can I reach a wider audience?

The Smokies

Here’s a picture of my ever-pale self in the Smokies!  This particular hike was 2 miles each way, so a total of 4 miles.  It was rather flat, but as you can see the scenery was beautiful.  It also was quite inspiring!  As I wrote a fairy short story titled “Between the Trees” that will hopefully find a home soon!