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A story revolves around characters. Good characters. Bad characters. Funny, serious, sad, happy, emotionally charged characters. Your story may not utilize everything you know about your character. After all, will your reader care if a love-sick teen is adopted, or that the school bully loves horses? The reader may not know, but the author should. That love-sick teen may be searching for love because she’s always felt deprived of it. Or the bully reacts the way he does because his father sold his beloved horse for a gambling debt. Every decision a character makes, is the result of several other factors in his or her life.

I admit, I seldom know my character completely when I begin to write. I find my characters flow and swell as I write, shaping themselves and revealing more and more about themselves as the story progresses. I don’t go into the story blind though. I have a set of questions I ask my characters. They may be shy and not tell me everything, but usually by mid-manuscript I know them like a best friend.

Here are some of the more important questions I like to ask my characters.

Name: What’s in a name? It’s your first impression. Your character needs to have a first, middle, last and nickname that creates the image you wish for your character.

Age: When I write middle grade or young adult, I feel age is extremely important. A 12 year old can’t wait to be a teenager, counting off at ‘12 and a half’ or ‘almost 13.’ And a teenager many times will lie about their age because they want to be treated as a grown-up and not as a baby. It isn’t until they get much older, they want to quit aging so fast. ;-)

Birthday: Again, in some fiction, this may not be as important. But for middle grade and young adult, a birthday is a very celebrated occasion. And depending upon their birth date, they may feel ahead of or behind their friends. My son had a September birthday and thus was the youngest student in his graduating class. He was ready for grade school, but we had some challenging moments in grade school because his maturity level was behind many in his class.

Height, Weight, Body type: Is your character short or tall? Are they skinny or heavy? Or are they average? Do they like the way they look? Or do they wish to be different? How many people are ever satisfied with how they look?

Family: Does your character have a loving mother and father? Sisters? Brothers? The family can shape the personality of your character.

Speech: Does your character speak well? Does he or she have an impediment or an accent? Speech can tell a lot about a person. A character raised with a silver spoon and the best schools speaks much differently than a character that was raised in the back woods. A shy character will also speak differently than an out-going person.

How does your character see his or herself: This will explain a lot of how your character will react to whatever crosses his or her path. What are his or her weaknesses? What are their strengths?

How do others see your character: This also tells a lot about your character. Maybe your character feels she is dull and boring, but others view that as a loyal friend and a good listener.

Hobbies. Likes. Favorite colors: A happy person will usually like bright colors like orange, red or yellow. A depressed person goes to black.  A happy person will like to be active, releasing endorphins while a sad person might prefer to walk alone in the dark.

What is the best thing that can happen to your character? What is the worst: Set up your story and let your character tell you how they will react and solve the issues that come up.

These questions reveal much about my characters. But I admit, my characters usually change some from the first time I ask these questions to the time I end my story’s rewrites. They change, they grow, they learn, just as I do, each and every day. I’ve learned to be patient, love them, embrace them and grow with them. After all, they are some of my best friends. And they have a story to tell!

Good luck getting to know your characters.

C.K. Volnek