Friday, October 19, 2012

Characterization: The Susie May Way

by Jill Williamson

One of my favorites!
I hope you enjoyed Susie May Warren's guest post on Tuesday. The woman knows how to characterize. And plot. And write books. And teach people how to write books. She runs My Book Therapy, a website that teaches writing and coaches people too. Check out her website and her writing books. Good stuff. And here is a link to her bookstore page where you can buy all kinds of amazing tools. I own some of them myself. *grin*

You've likely heard people teach that you should consider interviewing your main characters to get to know them. And on Tuesday, Susie talked about throwing out that long list of character facts: height, eye color, likes, and dislikes, etc.

Here are a few key questions that Susie suggests you ask each of your main characters. I've allowed my character Mason from Captives to answer each. And all of these answers aren't necessarily in the book. But these answers help me know who Mason is and why he does the things he does. Also, your character might tell you these things even if he would NEVER say them out loud. Your character trusts you with his darkest secrets, okay? :-)

What was the darkest moment of your childhood that shaped your past?
When my best friend Joel was killed on a hunting trip. He'd wanted me to come along, but I don't like to hunt. I lent him my gun, though, because mine was better than his. But while they were gone, the gun misfired. My gun killed Joel.

What kind of a person are you today because of that?
I'm very cautious. I'm obsessed with becoming the best doctor I can. And I hate hunting more than ever. I'm also a vegetarian.

What lie do you believe?
That I'm a little off. Backwards. I believe no girl will ever want to marry me because I value smarts more than hunting or strength. Our village is all about how strong a man is. And the village doctor has always been a woman, so the men don't like the fact that I'm learning that trade from my mother. I just don't fit in anywhere.

Nicholas Braun is my picture of Mason.
What emotional wound do you carry?
That I'm unlovable.

What's your greatest fear?
That I'll lose another loved one and won't be able to save him.

What are your motivations and values?
I value knowledge, wisdom, caution, health, my family. I want to make the world a better place by being a good doctor and learning new ways of helping people.

What would you die for?
My family and friends. A noble cause. To protect knowledge for future generations.

What are you good at?
I'm good at helping the wounded and sick get well. I value plants. They have so many uses: food and medicinal. I'm a descent gardener. I like to solve puzzles, fix problems. I enjoy debate. I like to analyze complex problems, explore all options. I love to read Old books of knowledge. The past was a fascinating age.

When the going gets tough, what do you do?
I read. Medical books. Textbooks of Old. I like to fill my head with knowledge. Knowledge will never leave you.

What was the happiest moment of his past?
We were out hunting--my father had insisted I go along. But Father fell and broke his leg. It was pretty bad. But I knew what to do. Father didn't want my help at first. But he had to give in. And I helped him. And he knew it. And he told me that I did good.

What's your character's greatest dream?
That my dad would accept me for who I am. That he'd recognize that being a doctor is not easy, and that it's a worthy calling for a man as much as a woman.

What truth will set you free?
Knowing that I am valued as I am. That there is a purpose for me in this world. That I can do good. Make a contribution. Hearing my father say it.

What was a black moment in your past/childhood? (The black moment has to do with romance. If you're not writing a romance or at least including it in your book, you don't need this question.)
When Eliza chose to marry Mark over me. She said she liked me best--and I was way too young to get married--but I don't understand why she said what she did. Was she lying? It probably came down to my refusal to hunt. No woman wants a husband who won't hunt. It just proves that no one will ever love me.

Ask you character some of these questions. Did you find out anything interesting?


  1. Great post!! Must go pester my charries! What is the young man in the picture wearing around his neck?

    1. Thanks, Una!

      He's wearing military dog tags, it looks like. I liked this picture because I thought his light blue T-shirt looked like medical scrubs.

  2. Oh my gosh, reading this made me thing of my Liz :) I think Mason and Liz would get along, considering they both have fathers who don't understand them/aren't proud of them.

    Wonderful post! I love character interviews!

    1. Thanks, Savannah! It stinks to be misunderstood, huh, Liz? :-)

  3. I went and asked my MC some of these questions (I'll do the rest later for sure!). I did find out something interesting...that I definitely need to get to know her better! I'm working on it, but I need to move it along so I can actually write stuff that makes sense ;)

    1. Yeah... when I realized that I couldn't answer these questions for my main characters, I knew I had a lot more work to do! It's time consuming, but so helpful.

  4. Cool! I want to ask these to my characters!!

    1. Do it!

      I have a long drive to a book signing tomorrow, and I intend to interview some characters along the way. :-)

    2. Fun fun! I love long drives for all the writing I get to do.

  5. This is so cool :D I'm really liking these character posts. I learned a few things about my characters. One thing about my MC is that she's really outgoing and pretty good at moving on from things. She grew up with just her dad, but had a pretty normal life. Having no mom never really was a problem for her until she got older. Now, as she's getting married and has no mom, she's spending more time with her fiance's mom and is really starting to see where she missed things in life.

    1. That's cool, Random! Nice way of meeting a need that was missing from her life.

  6. This is cool!
    I'm going to do this with some of my characters, it looks really helpful.

  7. I love interviewing my characters! Not only does it help me develop them in new and creative ways, but it can be a ton of fun to go back and forth with someone who, in actuality, is just a voice in your head. Kind of a socially accepted form of insanity, I guess. ;)

    Anyway, I definitely hope to use these questions soon for my own characters - they should be helpful, since I'm in the process of rewriting right now, and at the very least I'll be able to remind myself of some aspects of my characters that I'd forgotten. Thank you to Susan May Warren for the questions - and thanks so much, Jill, for sharing your interview with Mason! He sounds like a really neat of luck to you with his story! :D