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Blog: The Writers' Study

© Richard Calver

We’re Jeanette Taylor and Annette Yourk of The Scribes, writers, instructors, mentors and editors. We’ll share our weekly thoughts, dialogues, favourite books and films, and quandaries about writing nonfiction. We’ll walk each other through our own writing challenges, and post insights our students share in our classes. Jeanette will also post BC coast history tales, tantalizing bits she discovered post-publication. Read more…

Get to Know Your Story Characters

Whether it’s a real person you’re writing about, or a fictional one, you need to know everything about her. The good and the bad qualities, the quirks and charms. Only the tip of the iceberg of information you gather will ever surface—to borrow Hemingway’s analogy—but it all comes to bear in the reactions and choices of a fully rounded person with complexity and surprises.

Pose Questions

If one of your characters seems flat, push for depth by answering these questions:

• How does she look and act (clothes, facial expressions, height, gestures, expressions, conversation)?

• What’s her social standing, class, education? What are her values?

• What’s her core need? What does she want during the course of this story? Will her wishes be fulfilled—or not?

• What are this person’s virtues and weakness, appetites and aversions?

• Is she likeable, redeemable, compelling—or not? How will that manifest?

• What is your opinion of this character? (How do you feel about her?)

• What does she fear?

• Do you feel empathy with her? At what point in the story and why?

• Will she transform as the story unfolds? If so, in what ways and through what circumstances?

• Does the story’s setting affect this character’s circumstances and fate? In what ways?

Try answering these questions through ‘freewriting.’ Set the timer for 10 minutes and just write. No corrections or ponderings for the right words and phrases. No editor will ever see this. It’s a journal exercise designed to tap into your subconscious. (For more on freewriting see:

Follow this up with a short biographical sketch. Nothing fancy. Just an encapsulation of your character’s background and qualities, captured in writing because the process makes us think more deeply.