Have a ‘Date’ with Your Characters

Talk about finding inspiration in the oddest place. The Grey’s Anatomy character Dr. Richard Webber (episode “The Room Where it Happens”) chastises the surgeons working with him in surgery to humanize the person on the operating table. He tells them to give the person a name, a story, a past, and some interests. Each surgeon around the table does as he commands, and in the process, the viewer learns something more about the surgeon. What if you had an imaginary date with your novel or story’s characters that forced you to know them so well, you make yourself disappear?

Quite often, we recycle the same character in different versions, because the character is a direct (or indirect) reflection of some part of ourselves and our experiences. Force yourself out of a comfort zone by forcing your characters to be anyone but some part of you. How do you do it? Date them.

Dr. Webber made the person on the operating table his late mother. He gave the person his mother’s face, name, her love for the cello and classical music, and he gave the unconscious patient his mother’s no-nonsense disposition. Some of the other surgeons scoffed at his command, but one got it immediately, and at the end of the surgery she tells the others that the person who consents to the surgery does so with the hope of living. It changes how you fight for them as a surgeon.

Writers are physicians and surgeons in a way. We diagnose plots and prescribe endings for each of our characters. Here are a few questions to answer about your characters:

  • Where are going on this imaginary date with your character? Did you choose the place or your ‘date’?
  • What is your character wearing? Why? What do you have on?
  • How does the character feel about the date? How is s/he expressing their feelings? Do you believe them?
  • How does the character feel about you? How do you feel about the character?
  • What internal battle is your character fighting? Do you want them to win or lose? Why?

Just keep asking yourself questions and creating information about your character based on this one ‘date.’ Don’t be concerned about how absurd they could become or how dull. Just fight for them so they can live on your pages. Authors who do well, who achieve success, write fully-formed characters.

Don’t feel like you have to do this for just the main characters. Experiment with minor characters too, because they help drive a story along.

Think of some of your favorite fictional characters. What do you like about them? Share in the comment section, please.

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