Getting to Know You


I’m shy. That’s not to say I can’t talk to people, because I can. I used to work in retail, and later the corporate world in customer service. Talking to people was my job. But I don’t get close to people. I talk to them to help them do their work or reach their goal or teach them something they want to know. And then I leave them alone.

The problem is, this attitude doesn’t work with characters. To write a good story, you have to know your characters really well. You don’t just have to talk to them. You have to be nosy.

I’m not a nosy person. I’m very much a you-do-your-thing-and-I’ll-do-mine person. Of course, in terms of customers and clients, that’s great. But when it comes to my characters, this sounds ridiculous. I mean, really. Am I worried about offending them by asking too many personal questions? I’m starting to think that yeah, maybe I am.

But I realize now that I need to know my characters as well as I know my own children. Because if I don’t connect with them, neither will my readers. So I need to learn what makes them cry, laugh, cringe and rage. What keeps them awake at night. Their regrets, dreams, insecurities and deepest secrets. I may need to approach them differently. Rather than ‘interviewing’ them, maybe I need to put them on the therapist’s couch and let them talk. Or eavesdrop on their conversations when they’re at a party. Look in their bedroom windows at night to see what they’re up to. Read their journals.

All I know is, what I’m doing so far isn’t working. I need to get past my personal hang-up and figure out how to become a busybody. So I’m open to new ideas. How do you get to know your characters?