Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Getting to Know My Characters

Characterization is pretty important to me as a writer. If I have a good understanding of my characters and their natures it makes it a lot easier for the words to flow. For me, to a certain extent, the plot flows directly out of the characters. Who they are and what choices they would make determines what happens in the story. So I need to know my characters. I need to know how they think and what they would do.

For this reason I often do characterization writing where I'll just sit and write stream of consciousness style from a particular character's point of view to try to get them to reveal themselves to me. I generally do this until I can hear their voice, and I mean that literally. When I can actually hear the sound of their voice in my head as I'm writing their words (it usually takes the form of a voice I've heard from an actor or actress) then I know I'm ready to write them in the story.

Right now I'm gearing up to finally make a fresh start on my novel which I'm planning as the first in a saga. (I like the sound of "saga" better than "series".) So I've been doing some characterization writing and I thought I'd share some of it here. What I'm sharing today is from the point of view of the character Menes, who is one of the two characters that speak from the future in the saga's framing device. Menes is a priest who is the curator of the great library in the city of temples. I hear his voice as the voice of the character of the technomage Elric in the sci fi show Babylon 5...


I remember.

When the summit of holy Tatenan breached the surface of the primordial waters I was there to remember. When Seppo the Architect broke ground at the feet of that mountain to make the foundation for the first of the four great cities I was there to remember. And when the rumblings of the earth caused the seas to boil and overwhelm the land I was there to remember. All things I remember. This is my role within Mayet.

For a thousand thousand years I have watched and remembered. I have lived among the mortal children of Re through countless cataclysms and catastrophes. I have seen them in their darkest hours and known the depth of their potential for honor and glory, as well as for betrayal. In the unending struggle between the Bas of Order and the Sheut of Chaos, I believe it is the Akh power of these mortal Men that will tip the balance for Mayet or Isfet.

I live among Men, when most of my brethren have retreated beyond the living world, to help guide their steps along the path of Mayet and prepare them for the task they must take up if Order is to triumph.

What others have forgotten, I preserve. What they have forsaken, I will restore.

This is my participation in Mayet.

So what do you think? Does Menes seem like an interesting character? Does Elric have the best voice ever or what? Do you do any similar exercises to get to know your characters?


  1. I love this idea - I've written short stories for my characters in the past to get to know them, but this feels like a much more in-depth experience.

    And Menes sounds fascinating. Ancient, observant, and a believer. Very compelling combination

  2. Found you through the Level Up blogfest. Glad I did, too. Always awesome to find a fellow fantasy writer.

  3. Menes sounds like an awesome character!

  4. VERY interesting. I'm hooked already.


  5. A pretty cool voice and character, yeah. I've done exercises like this since I took my first Storywonk class with Lani Diane Rich - she calls it "Discovery writing"

  6. I like it! He does seem very interesting and unique, and the voice is consistent. I write character profiles, and just kind of play with the writing until I hear them.

  7. I've occasionally done the writing exercise as you describe and agree that it can be quite beneficial. These days I find that I rarely have time for this. My tendency is to immerse myself into a character, channel them if you will, so that in my mind I become them to some extent, feel what they feel and think what they would think. I've found myself in tears with empathy and sharing anger and indignation when they experience it. I think this is a similar process except I'm not writing it as an exercise, but allowing the experience to become part of the writing in which I am engaged at the time.

    Writers Workshop
    An A to Z Co-host blog

  8. A great way to get into the voice, Sarah. And I loved Menes, btw. Very aged and wise--perhaps a touch arrogant. Just great! :)

  9. He does seem like an interesting character!
    I love writing stream of consciousness from a character's pov when I'm stuck in a difficult-to-write scene...


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