I love creating detailed profiles of my characters. I collect photos of people I want my book buddies to look like which helps me to describe them more clearly, then I sprinkle in various characteristics, back stories, and other bits of info for each one of them. It’s a blast!
But what if I could actually spend time with my characters?
I was inspired not too long ago while watching the movie “The Man Who Invented Christmas,” the story about Charles Dickens and his relationship with his fictional characters while writing The Christmas Carol. I enjoyed the conversations and even arguments he had with them when he wanted to take the story in one direction, but his characters wouldn't buy it.
I want that kind of relationship with my characters. So I decided to scheduled a time to "meet" with Grayson.
Twelve-year-old Grayson Phillips is the protagonist in my work in progress. Eventually, he goes through a strange process of turning invisible. But this meeting took place in pre-vanishing mode. (Can’t wait to conduct another interview once he’s invisible.)
On the day of the interview, I arrived at the Tangle Tackle (a fictitious place I created for the book) where we agreed to meet. It’s where all the kids hang out, so it was a bit noisy. Known for its fantastic fish ‘n chips, the place smelled incredible. Grayson was already there, sipping on a large chocolate shake topped with a mountain of whip cream.
He was just the way I imagined. Dark wavy tousled hair, mussed on top but trimmed nicely on the sides. Freckles. Dark eyes with bushy-ish eyebrows. Absolutely adorable.
I took a deep breath and approached his table. Sure, he was only 12. But he was the hero of my story. And since the book is only in the beginning stages, he deserved some respect for all the things I am going to be putting him through.
"Hi, Grayson. It's nice to meet you," I said, extending my hand.
He smiled, wiping his hand off on his shirt before shaking mine.
"Nice to meet you too," he took another long slurp of his shake.
Over the next hour, we talked about his friends, his dad leaving, and how that impacted him and his sister. We talked about school and how he tries to fit in. I asked him questions that taught me quite a bit about his personality, his relationships, and the challenges he faces … which, of course, are nothing compared to what he will be facing as the story progresses.
But I didn’t tell him that.
I knew this would help me connect with Grayson, but what I didn't expect was how much this interview would help me with my other characters. By getting to know Grayson better, I learned more about some of his friends.
For example, his one friend … and his 12-year-old crush … has her own business searching for lost pets. She started out doing it just for fun and was so good that people in her community actually pay her to find their pets when they wander off. You wouldn’t think that would happen often, but she has one regular customer — a neighbor —with a cat that wanders off at least once a week. Anyhow, Grayson helps her when he’s able.
Boom! I did not know that about her.
Grayson was a good sport, but like any 12-year-old, he had better things to do. He agreed to meet again as the story evolves. Which is good. Not only do I need his input, but he may need a pep talk or two to get through some of the twists and challenges I have planned.
Talking with Grayson directly allowed me to connect with him in a way that I hadn't been able to before. And it helped me to gain insight into some of the other characters in my story, as well as gave me some direction on the plot. (And yes, I wrote it all down.)
So, if you are a writer, I would highly recommend this approach. It's amazing what else transpires when you pretend to interact with your character. It adds additional layers to your story that you don't expect. You will draw closer to your character and discover more about your story and the other characters that will help fuel your writing.
Plus, you’ll have a blast. Guaranteed.
Cindy Lynn Sawyer is a KidLit writer with a passion for helping kids to G.L.O.W. from the inside out, and to help other children's writers on their path to publication.