It’s time to start writing and getting to know your characters. Some people fill in character charts. I want you to ask your character about him or herself.
When I created Neill Mallory, the protagonist in my book, Minority of One, I sat him down in a chair – metaphorically speaking of course, and asked him to help me see his life as a gay black teen. It wasn’t easy, he’s not the wordy type. But finally he was ready to talk:
I know all about being an outsider. Every morning I wake up. Stretch. Kick off the blankets. Look in the mirror and stare into the eyes of a walking statistic.
Young. Black. Gay.
Three strikes against me before I’m even dressed.
An outlier, as my statistics teacher would say. Several standard deviations from the norm. The kind of thing scientists hate because it makes the rest of the data look bad until they find an explanation. Makes me wonder if God turned to my soul before I was born and asked, Hey, Neill, how much you want to have going against you? Hope you like flying solo.
The best part about “channeling” a character is discovering new things about him. In the case of Neill, I uncovered his secret fear that one day his little niece would look at him in disgust because he was gay.
It’s your turn to play shrink. Make him or her tell you about their past, including his deepest secrets and desires. Put your pen or keyboard in the hands of the character. Probe deeply, don’t let them hide feelings. Ask about their feelings about their gender identity, race, religion, age, society, and beliefs about others. What in their past gives them these feelings or beliefs? Don’t forget to ask the character how they feel about themselves.
Basically, just begin the job of getting to know your diverse character. Feel free to use one of your existing characters from a WIP for this. Or you can use a brand new character, or the modified character from the last exercise. And don’t forget to be doing cultural research, what you learn will influence what your character feels.
If you wish to share what you uncover do so, post the profiles. Or, for this exercise, you can send them to me privately and I will give you private feedback.
If your character doesn’t want to talk (that happens) or gives only yes or no answer, keep pushing, go deeper. For example,
Q – Do you run away from conflict?
A – Yes.
Q – But why? You seem strong, articulate, and intelligent. Tell me more.
A – Well, back in third grade I got into a fight after some kid called me a ….
And here are a few sample interviews I did with some of my characters if you need anything more to help you get started.
Sample character interviews: