Monday, August 22, 2011

Getting to Know Your Characters by Jeannie Campbell, Part Three

Thanks for joining me at Seriously Write. If you missed the previous two posts in this series, you can click here for Question one and here for Question two. I’ll jump right in to the next question. Let's dive into question three. 

Getting to Know Your Characters, Part Three
by Jeannie Campbell

Question Three: What is your biggest regret?

The answer to this question truly reveals a goldmine of information about someone, on at least two layers that I’ll explore further here.

If a character’s regret centers around themselves, how they were unable to get a big promotion or marry the right person, that’s revealing in and of itself. If it centers on how someone else was mistreated or abused or harmed in some way, that gives information. Even more so, if the character’s regret centers on something they said or did in the past that harmed someone else.

As your character answers this question (I suggest you write out the answers in your character’s voice, just as I have authors do on my intake form), look for the underlying emotion(s) he or she feels. Once you determine what truly motivates their regret, you’ll understand an additional layer about your character.

If a person feels shame or guilt about something they did in their past or something they are currently doing, this gives a glimpse into their internal values and moral code. To feel either means that person knows they were in the wrong, either through action or inaction.

But if a person is embarrassed or annoyance about what happened, that’s a feeling about a feeling, called meta emotion. It glosses over the actual event or the actual hurt or rejection, which is revealing. This type of character could be narcissist or too concerned about self-image to care about others.

Either way, a regret can be a huge motivation. On my intake form, I look at this question in relation to the character’s internal or external motivation in the book. I like to see how much of their psychological distress causes them to act.

Join me next week as we conclude this series on getting to know your main character!


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.