You’ve heard the old expression, To really know someone, you must walk in their shoes.
This expression reminds us to not judge people before we get to know them and to not assume we know what they’re thinking and feeling. This expression holds true for the people in our life as well as the characters in our stories.
Writing about someone without knowing them first makes them flat, uninteresting and possible unreliable. When I begin a new story with new characters, I often stumble my way along, wondering if my character will go this way or that. If they are faced with a challenge, what will they do? Turn and run? Or stand and fight?
Until I write half a book on a particular character, I don’t know how they talk or what their peculiarities are. Do they bite their lip, pick at their nails or dig at their crotch? Perhaps they raise an eyebrow, scratch their ear or stare at a person’s mouth when they’re being lectured. When they speak, do they talk with authority, more with questions than statements or do they pronounce across to sound like acrost?
In my fantasy novel, getting to know my characters will tell me if they possess magic, if they can ride a horse, wield a sword or think it’s disgusting if a dwarf walks barefoot through town.
One way I get to know my characters intimately is to write a character sketch for them. I’m not talking about bland notes concerning hair colour and height; I’m talking about an actual short story reporting an event that may have caused them the most pain in their life…up until they appear in my novel, of course.
All the main characters in my fantasy novel have a short story written about them. Not only have I gotten to know these characters in a time and place away from the novel, the character sketches provide interesting material I’m able to inject into the main story. All of this adds depth to the finished product.
Character sketches can also be fun. I often have another character from my novel play a part – just a wee one – to provide a familiar element. It reminds me of where they were when all of this came down.
The character sketches range anywhere between 4,000 and 9,000 words. Some, of course, are better read after the books so as not to give away any secrets, but one, Catriona Wheatcroft’s story, can be read before reading the novels.
Catriona doesn’t play a huge role in Shadows in the Stone, but she is necessary to the story and shows up several times. Her character sketch takes place when she’s seventeen years old. She’s living in the town of Maskil with her parents and two younger brothers. She’s your typical teenager, knowing everything and hating annoying little brothers who seem to get away with more than she. This attitude brings trouble when she ignores her teacher’s advice and plays with magic too powerful for her to control.
Catriona’s story can be read in PDF form here Visions and Mares.
Just a reminder, there are only two days left to take advantage of this offer: Quarter Castle Publishing is offering the short story Mutated Blood Lines by Diane Lynn McGyver for free for the month of January. Plug in the coupon code (DU27R) at the point of purchase.