Getting to Know Your Characters

Another tidbit from a couple years ago that has changed my writing life forever....

In between the required reading in ON WRITING HORROR, I've been studying the various essays by the gifted writers enclosed within its pages. The latest nugget of wisdom came from Tina Jens titled "Such Horrible People." Ms. Jens describes characterization in such a creative and entertaining way that not only have I soaked up her insightful words, but I do believe they have changed the way I write forever.

Within her essay, Tina Jens describes getting to know your characters as well as you would your high school buddies. Their ins, their outs, their quirks, fears, flaws and successes. What makes them tick? Getting to know your characters so well they are sitting there beside you writing your story for you. Your job as a writer is merely a stenographer, they are in control. After all it's their story, right?

Yes, I've read lots of articles on developing characters but never in such a clear, open manner where it is not only practical, but brings the knowledge down from my gray matter to application.Thank you, Tina Jens, for such an intelligent and entertaining essay.

So to put into practice this new-to-me character-creation process, I've interviewed one of my main characters for my current work-in-progress. As it turns out she is nothing like the puppet I created. I got her name, hair color, age and even personality totally wrong. The character that arose from this interview is stronger, more dynamic and a complete improvement over what the puppet-master me had created.

Rather than feeling the pressure of creating this novel purely out of my own tedious, task-oriented agenda, I am excited to see what she and the other main characters will show me as their story unfolds. I have more interviews today. One I am particularly nervous about, my villain. He's a dark, angry creature whose fiery home was recently disturbed. Wish me luck....I'll keep you posted.

Thank you, Tina Jens and the Horror Writers Association...and to you, thanks for reading!


  1. I've never done character interviews, but it certainly sounds interesting and revealing.

    1. Hi Ben, thanks for visiting and for your comment. For me, the interview allows my characters to become more real, more "human." Much like interviewing an actual person, you can watch their body language, hear their answers, often with surprising results. :)

    2. Hi Ingrid,

      How do you know what questions to ask? Did Tina Jens have a list of suggested questions or did you use someone elses, or did you come up with your own?

    3. Hi Pearl,

      Thanks so much for reading. What a great question! Basically, I came up with my own list, with the idea of asking what is relevant to my setting/story.

      Tina's essay, starting on page 66 of ON WRITING HORROR, included everything from general observations of your character's demeanor, dress, and how they speak to basic questions like where they live, education, family life...and on up to talents, hobbies and even political affiliation. There really is no basic list other than suggestions and for a short chapter it really is quite detailed.

      What I got more than anything is the idea to act on gut impulse, much like you would if you were a reporter. The idea is to get your characters to talk to you and almost everyone loves talking about themselves...sometimes it just takes a little prodding. :)


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