Saturday, April 19, 2014

Q is for Quarantine



Have you ever thought about putting your main characters under quarantine? Not because of illness, but simply to isolate him/her from other characters while learning about them.

It’s easier to unearth the emotional and motivational stuff that’s hidden deep inside our characters for the purpose of crafting a better story. Imagine you have your character in a private room, free of distraction and that he/she is relaxed and open to a frank discussion.

If, for example, your book has romantic overtones, there are some questions that would be important to ask. (For the sake of this exercise, the main character will be A and the secondary ones will be Character B, and so on.)

·         How does Character A feel about Character B?
·         Does A know why he feels this way about B?
·         What, if anything, would change A’s feelings about B?
·         Does B have any character traits that A can’t stand?
·         How does A feel about being in a long term relationship with B?
·         How would A feel if he never saw B again?
·         How does being with B affect A’s behaviour?
·         How does A’s relationship with B make him feel about himself?
·         Does A recognize how his attitude changes toward other characters as the story progresses?
·         Ask yourself whether the storyline improves/falters if you add/remove secondary characters.

Bear in mind that the answers to the questions above may surprise you and can send the story sailing into uncharted waters. However, I think it is important to explore in several directions as the answers you get may open up fascinating plot lines, or perhaps the information that’s revealed can be used in another novel.

What other questions can you think of to ask your character/s about their relationship with other people in your story?

22 comments:

stu said...

But that's just the thing. They're not in quarantine. They're not isolated, and they only really make sense in relation to other characters.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Someone else had suggested writing down how each character views the other, and it really helped flesh out some of the main characters in my current manuscript. I could understand their motivations better.

Cecilia said...

great questions. I shall try this with a particular character who jumped into my head while I read it. He must want e to isolate him and grill him this way. hmmm the plot thickens.


http://ceciliaaclark.blogspot.com.au

J.L. Campbell said...

Quarantine is a figure of speech, Stu. You can only find out what is eating at someone who has a problem if you speak to them alone, that is without distractions.

As in life, Alex, some things we only learn by digging deep.

Cecilia, sounds like a plan.

Raquel Somatra said...

I've always tried to do this sort of character profile but it doesn't really work for me. Maybe it's because I don't know a lot of this stuff until the character tells me on his or her own terms! Characters are strange creatures... they don't like being interrogated. At least the ones in my head don't ;)

Liza said...

What a great way to get inside your character's head.

Pat Hatt said...

A great way to go about it indeed

Lisa said...

Excellent post. I like the suggestions and hope you don't mind if I "steal" them for inspiration. I like it when the characters take over the story! In fact, if they do, then I know I'm on the right track...

debi o'neille said...

I love analyzing how my MC feels about other characters in all regards. Deb@ http://debioneille.blogspot.com

J.L. Campbell said...

Raquel, whatever works, I guess. We're all os different in the way we write.

Liza, thanks for stopping in and sharing your thoughts.

Pat, I like figuring out motivation. Until I know what a character wants I can't move him/her toward their goals.

Lisa, thanks. This is what the IWSG is all about. Learning from each other.

Debi, good approach.

Chrys Fey said...

This is a great strategy! I'll have to try it before I start a new project with new characters. :)

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I've found that the deeper I dig into my characters motivations and feelings, the better I can create his interaction with other characters. Love your highlighted list.

klahanie said...

My main fictional human character, Gary, has been placed in quarantine. I have set him aside so some of my other characters, notably "Ann Tagonist" can get more of a spotlight in my writing.

Pawsitive wishes,

Penny, the friendly host of the Alphabark Challenge! :)

J.L. Campbell said...

Chrys, good move. Then you'll know if this is something that can work for you.

Susan, that's true for me too. Knowing our characters well makes for easier storytelling.

J.L. Campbell said...

Penny,
Here's wishing that you get what you want out of your human.

klahanie said...

Hey J.L,

We shall start with doggy treats. After all, I'm a diva dog.

Pawsitive wishes,

Penny, the friendly host of the Alphabark Challenge! :)

Mary Rack said...

Brilliant!! My writing up to now has been all technical or expository, but I sometimes think I'd like to try fiction. I saw instantly that this could be a launching pad for me.

Many thanks! Mary at Variety, the Spice of Life

Birgit said...

The first 2 things that came to mind was Agatha's Christie's book/play "And Then There were None/10 Little Indians and Hitchcock's film "Lifeboat". You can really find out a lot about the characters when they can't move much

Stephanie Faris said...

I write middle grade fiction, so it's important to keep secondary characters to a minimum. Otherwise, it just gets too confusing. The challenge then is to confine actions to the same group of people, when in reality more people would likely be involved.

Scribbler said...

Hmmm. Worth exploring, but only for use within the narrative. I don't really like exploring motivations and backstory that will never make it into a piece. Just my own view and lazy method. Great post.

http://ragtaggiggagon.blogspot.ie/2014/04/p-is-for-poetry-az-blogging-challenge.html

kaykuala said...

Food for thought JL! Like the idea! It immediately creates avenues to expand thinking on the character, on what might transpire or can happen. Thanks for sharing!

Hank

Michelle Wallace said...

Great idea. I'll have to try it.
That list is so helpful too...