Monday, August 8, 2011

Getting to Know Your Characters by Jeannie Campbell, Part One

Hey writers, Annette here. Today Jeannie Campbell begins a new series: Getting to Know Your Characters: Four Questions Your Character Must Answer and Why. She's the "character therapist." Let's pull up a couch and learn something, shall we?

Getting to Know Your Characters: Part One
by Jeannie Campbell

I've found that there are several questions that every character needs to answer in order for his or her author to get to know them better. For this reason, I’ve included these questions and more in my character intake form.

For this series, I want to take a look at each of these questions and discuss why they are so important. Be sure to come back each Monday in August to get all of the info!

Question 1: What is your greatest fear?

While this is not the first question on my form (I ask for basic info like name and age first), it’s perhaps one of the most important. Our fears, which usually center around a limitation or a failure, perhaps a disappointment or frustration, hold the key to our biggest vulnerability.

The same is true for characters.

Fear is fundamental—present in every living thing. Every reader can relate to it in a book simply because of its existence in a character’s life. A reader might not be able to relate to the specific fear your character has, but you draw them in simply because the character fears.

We all have fears, and how we go about relating or not relating to that fear says a lot about us and our fictional counterparts.

Some characters stare fear in the face, like Bella Swan. Yes, they're scared, but perhaps excited and energized at the same time Some go to great lengths to minimize opportunities for a fear to manifest, like Edward Cullen running away from Bella at various times in the Twilight saga.

An author has to have an understanding of what drives their character's fears too. If I give my character a fear of, say, bees, then I need to have in mind a plausible reason why she fears them, like her finding her father dead in the garden from anaphylactic shock due to bee sting.

So give this some thought for your MC. Fears can absolutely define a person, so what does your character's fears say about him or her?


Jeannie Campbell is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (MFC # 45366) in the state of California. She is Head of Clinical Services for a large non-profit in Humboldt County, and enjoys working mainly with children and parents. Two of her “therapeutic romance” manuscripts have garnered the high praise of being finalists in the Genesis Contest for unpublished writers, sponsored by the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), of which she is an active member. She writes a popular monthly column for Christian Fiction Online Magazine and has been featured in many other e-zines, newspapers, and blogs.