While I wasn’t very busy writing blog posts this summer, I was very busy writing. And some of that writing was actually pre-writing.


Now, my definition of pre-writing may be different from any other definition. I’m okay with this. For me, it’s not about whatever writing or thinking I do before I start drafting. (I usually think of that as plotting and planning and researching.) No. It’s more about the specific writing I do to help me get into a character’s head. (If this has a different name, please enlighten me.)


Recently I had a male character who was too good to be true. He was whatever the main character needed him to be, so he wasn’t very interesting. He needed his own goals, motivations, conflicts. His own personality. Somehow I’d forgotten to give him a personality. As a result, his relationship with the main character wasn’t very interesting either. And it needed to be. Their relationship was important.


So I had him write the main character some letters at different points in their relationship, starting with the first time he saw her. At first mostly backstory came out of it, but that backstory was important to figuring out who he was. Then I had him write letters to people in his life from before the story, and journal entries about the major turning points in his relationship with the main character. And voilà. I had a character.


I have found this method useful in the past, so really should make it part of my normal routine. Instead, it’s like a wonderful surprise every time I think to try it.


What are some of your favorite ways to get to the guts of a character?


Filed under writing

6 responses to “Pre-Writing

  1. Great idea, Vicki. Anything that reveals what’s deep inside your character’s head works. Once on a blog tour, a host asked me to interview a character. I tried that for the MC of a work in progress and was surprised at what I discovered. Now I try to do something like that as part of my prewriting.

  2. Fun! I like to interview them. I will put all my characters in a line up and haul them into the office one at a time asking them the same questions. Love the results. lol. But sometimes I will let them write a scene in their pov so I get a new angle. They always surprise me.

  3. I used to do more of this… write some scene that would never make the book (or might not) to get to know my characters better… come to think of it, I may need to get back to this. Two of my recent books have had MCs fall flat for my first readers. This was a good reminder…

  4. dksalerni

    When I’m stuck on a character, I ask my critique partners to generate interview questions, things they’d like to know about my character. I might add some of my own questions, but it’s always interesting to find out what my CPs want to know.

    Then I try to answer the questions on behalf of my character. It’s always interesting what I uncover. Most of the time, I don’t use everything I write in an interview — and looking back at those interviews, many drafts later, I see that I change many things.

    But those interviews often provoke a gut response to the inner workings of that character. THAT is what I gain most from them. Not the details that go into the answers. But the flavor of the character.

  5. I swear by a little chart at the back of Ackerman & Puglisi’s Negative Trait Thesaurus. It has little boxes for the backstory wound, the character’s goals and motivations, and the traits the character has (both positive and negative) that help and hinder the goals.

  6. Nice. That’s definitely a powerful way to really get to know your characters. I love putting my characters in all kinds of strange situations to figure them out, or discovering their living space.

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