Getting Into the Heads of Your Characters

Characters are my absolute favorite part of writing any story. They’re often the spark of a new project for me—I get an image of a scene in my head, and while the events are exciting, it’s the characters’ dialogue that has me scrambling for a scrap of paper and a pen. It’s my first glimpse into their world and who they are within it. What are they feeling? Why? How did they get here? How do they relate to each other?

Different writers approach developing their characters differently and have varying philosophies about the process. For my protagonists and antagonists, my process usually involves discovering them rather than designing them (although that sometimes happens, too). Not all characters kick in the door to my brain, ready to reveal everything about themselves. Sometimes, for the sake of the story, a character takes intentional design. Old-school allegories are an example of designing a character for a set purpose.

I’m particularly fond of the cast of characters fueling my current work in progress (this protagonist was definitely a door-kicker). So today, we’re going to talk about a few tips for getting into the heads of your characters.

Complete a Character Questionnaire

Google “character questionnaire” and you’ll find a hundred pre-made questions all centered on character details. You can find quick versions with introspective questions—What motivates your character? What’s their darkest secret?—to questions so detailed you’ll walk away knowing your protagonist’s favorite type of cheese (brie, anyone?). These are a great place to get started if you haven’t done a character outline before, and can be super helpful to keep on hand for consistency once you start writing. For example, if you’re writing a rom com and want the love interest to bring the protagonist their favorite coffee after a fight, it’s helpful to have a reference sheet so you don’t have your protagonist loving caramel lattes in one chapter and spitting caramel out in disgust a few chapters later.

Take A Personality Quiz

There are a lot of personality quizzes out there: Myer Briggs, Enneagram, even Buzzfeed. Not all of them are free, but if you hunt around you can find them! Whether or not you believe in the validity of personality assessments for yourself, they can be a tool to get a better idea of your character, even if you already know them pretty well. I did this recently with 16Personalities (it’s free!). I picked two characters from my work in progress and completed the questions how I believe my characters would answer them. Are the results of these types of assessments generalizations? Absolutely. Do they account for individual experiences and how they shape a person? No. But it can still be a good way to gather an overarching sense of why characters (outside of their individual life circumstances) might approach their world the way they do.

Connect through Other Mediums

I’ve found using mediums other than writing, such as drawing, fashion, and pre-existing imagery (like Pinterest boards) sometimes help me nail down details about my characters. While external appearances don’t determine personality traits, I think it’s fair to say that in life, people often use external means like clothes, hair styles, home decor, and similar things to outwardly express how they internally feel or view themselves (or to the opposite effect, to hide those things).

While I’m not magnificent at drawing, I enjoy it, and drawing my characters together helps me get a visual sense of their relationships. I think of it like taking a candid photo: “If these two characters happened to be next to each other, what would their expressions and body language be? Are they the type of friends who nudge each others’ shoulders? Friendly rivals who would smirk at getting a rise out of each other? Loners who wouldn’t be caught dead standing near anyone else at all?”

Fashion can be used to a similar effect. You can sketch out what you think characters would wear or collect images of aesthetics and make a collage or Pinterest board. If you’re a fan of cosplay, how would you dress as each of your own characters? All of these things are fun and useful ways to get into the heads of your characters.

Happy writing!

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Hello, Old Friends

It’s been a while. Nearly a year, actually, since we last found ourselves together here at Girl Meets Fiction. I won’t go into how disorienting, disheartening, and strange the events of the last year have been because we’re all here living it, whatever that means for each of us. Thankfully, there have been some bright moments. The glimmers that keep us moving, even if we’re not entirely sure of the direction or the outcome.

Being forced to slow down and reprioritize in 2020, I thought I would get a lot more writing done than I did. But I’m still here, writing, and I’d like to believe I’ve learned a few things along the way.

It’s Okay to Take a Break

There have been stretches of time where it’s felt as if I’ve been disqualified from the writer’s clubhouse because I’m not actively working on a project. What I’ve come to realize is that the word count per day, or even per week, doesn’t get the final say. It’s the stories that continue floating around my head, even if they don’t make it to a page. It’s reading books that inspire me to want to inspire others. It’s talking to other writers/readers, skimming Goodreads, and compiling Pinterest boards for character aesthetics. Sometimes, it’s naps. It’s too much TV. It’s trusting myself enough to know that I can take a break (even a long one) when I just need rest. If you’ve ever had a similar experience, then you probably already know what I had to rediscover: when you’re ready, the stories will still be there.

The Words Will Come Back

When you are ready to open your laptop or pick up your pen again, it doesn’t always go the way you plan. For me, it’s felt like there’s been a lot of rust to scrape off to get to the good stuff. It’s slow work sometimes. Many freshly minted sentences have quickly met their doom by way of the delete key, repeatedly. It can be maddening. It can also be the thing to finally unlock a worthwhile phrase or idea. When I couldn’t bring myself to work on one story, I ended up starting another. The second had no outline, no premeditated character motives, nothing. It was freeing to begin a project without all that pressure. Although that particular piece might turn out to be nonsense and never see the light of day, it helped me to get excited again, which led to me diving back into the work-in-progress that has really been needing my attention.

Someone Wants to Hear Your Story

At the start of the fall, a friend and I were walking after an outdoor, physically-distanced coffee date. Our conversation eventually came around to how my recent work-in-progress was going. I hadn’t been writing much at the time, but I gave her a summary of the story. Immediately, she asked me follow-up questions. She wanted to know my characters, to hear about their plights and the outcomes. Her genuine interest in their stories helped me fall even deeper in love with the characters. It also revived my excitement to solidify my ideas on paper. Anytime I exchange creative ideas with someone, it reignites my fuel and motivates me to start writing again. Since that walk, there have been plenty of times when I’ve slid back out of “writing mode,” but talking about the book with someone usually sends me right back into the fray. It’s reassuring to know that someone out there wants to hear the story I’m trying to tell. Someone is looking for a story like yours, too.

Be kind. Stay safe. Happy writing!

Love,

The Girl

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5 Uplifting Books to Keep You Company

There’s a lot of uncertainty in the world right now. Lately, I’ve found myself having to look harder for bright patches in the everyday, and what I’ve found is that no matter what is happening, or what is out of my control, stories are always there to give me hope. Or, at the very least, some fictional friends to keep me company when I need it. If you find yourself in the same boat, then you may enjoy a pick-me-up from any of these five recommended books.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

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Raised among backstage curtains by her ruthless father, illusionist Celia is trained to compete in an age old rivalry. Her grooming leads her to Cirque de Rêves, a massive and fantastical undertaking like the world has never seen. As strategies unfold and terrible secrets are revealed, Celia and her opponent begin to realize they are competing for more than victory–they are competing for their lives. (Read my review or find a copy online.)

No Matter the Wreckage by Sarah Kay

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This beautifully written collection of poetry celebrates the bonds of family, moments of everyday life, the joys and sorrows of searching for a place to belong, and so much more. I loved it from page one. Sarah Kay’s style is brilliantly insightful and charmingly funny. She is also one of the minds behind Project Voice, an organization that teaches students from Kindergarten to University the importance of telling your story and how to harness your voice through poetry. (Find a copy online.)

Once Upon a Marigold by Jean Ferris

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Fun and whimsical, this YA romantic comedy is an easy and enchanting read. It follows the antics of Christian, a love-sick commoner living in a cave with his trollish companion. Determined to find his happily ever after with Princess Marigold, Christian must find a way to save her from the evil schemes of the power-hungry queen. This book is an odd mix of traditional fairytale and contemporary lit, and is the kind of guilty pleasure you can read over the weekend for a quick smile and warm heart. (Find a copy online.)

Again, but Better by Christine Ricccio

For Shane, college hasn’t been like she expected. Pushed into a degree she doesn’t want by her parents and alone except for her fraying relationships with once-close cousins, she decides to break from her complacent, wallflower life by embarking on a study abroad in London to try again. Make friends. Be who she wants to be. But life outside her comfort zone is messier than anticipated, and it may take some unexpected magic to make it better. (Read my review or find a copy online.)

Tumble & Blue by Cassie Beasley

Blue Montgomery was destined to be cursed. He is a Montgomery after all. His particular affliction? To lose at everything. Abandoned at his grandmother’s house for the summer, Blue finds himself surrounded by equally unlucky relatives, and each of them is determined to be the one chosen. Chosen to go into the swamp, face the legendary monster that first cursed their ancestor, and change their fate. But when he meets Tumble, an idealistic girl with a hunger for heroics, they both wonder: What if you can change your own fate? (Read my review or find a copy online.)

Happy reading!

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What to Read: The Starless Sea

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern


Summary

After finding a magical door painted into a wall as a boy, but choosing not to open it, Zachary Ezra Rawlins has always felt there is somewhere else he was supposed to be. Now in college, Zachary discovers a book that launches him deep into the heart of one of the world’s oldest, best kept secrets—an impossible, magical place built from and containing lifetimes of stories. Suddenly caught between two underground societies, one bent on destroying and the other on preserving this place, Zachary finds himself part of an ancient love story that has been unspooling itself across time and space.

Overall Impressions

I still cannot fully wrap my mind around this beautiful piece of art. (Full disclosure, I may be a little bias being that Erin Morgenstern’s other novel The Night Circus is still my absolute favorite book.) The inexplicable world Morgenstern builds is as poetic, creative and mind-bending as ever. It is every story lover’s dreamscape. Every time a new piece of the narrative wove itself together to reveal an ounce of the mystery surrounding the existence of the Starless Sea and its defenders, new questions emerged in a thrilling, intoxicating way. All of that said, The Starless Sea is not a light read, and with so many narrative threads to follow, deciding to dive in is a definite time commitment. But if you have the time and are looking for an immersive new story full of tragedy, magic and love, I highly recommend adding this book to your list.

Happy reading!

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What to Read: Not Your Sidekick

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Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee


Summary

As if high school isn’t hard enough, Jessica Tran is trying to come to terms with the fact that she’ll likely never exhibit superpowers like her hero-class parents. When she is chosen for an internship at the biggest company in Andover, Jessica is thrilled. However, she soon learns that the lab where she interns is led by her parents’ arch nemesis. (She may also have a crush on the head intern, Abby, but that’s beside the point.) The lab isn’t the only mysterious thing happening in Andover, and as Jessica dives into the world of heroes and villains, she discovers a plot that goes far deeper than she could have imagined.

Overall Impressions

Jessica is a hero you root for from the first line—relatable, charming, and determined. Like many of us, all she wants is to be somebody, and her journey to define what that means is entertaining and heartfelt. Her story is told in first-person present tense, giving the reader a front seat to her thoughts. Personally, it’s not my favorite point of view as a reader, but I appreciated how it created a natural flow to the narrative as I followed Jessica through her different identities as a student, daughter, hero, smitten teen, etc. Overall, this book is a fun, light read that at its end packs a punch of commentary about government, media, and societal perspectives. I recommend this novel to readers who enjoy YA, superheroes, LGBTQ+ protagonists, and stories that emphasize the value of friendship.

Happy reading!

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What to Read: This Savage Song

This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab


Summary

The world changed when violence began birthing monsters. Living in a divided city, Kate and August find themselves on opposite sides of a quickly fraying truce. On Kate’s side of the Seam, monsters roam the city under her human father’s thumb. Meanwhile, August and his family seek to eliminate monsters—despite August being one himself. When Kate and August’s lives are forced together in an assassination attempt, they must rely on each other to survive. But how far can a man trust a monster?

Overall Impressions

Schwab’s urban fantasy novel is a well-balanced diet of poetry and gore, one that I really enjoyed. Verity and its monsters are bone-chilling, sophisticated, and (sometimes) wildly human. August’s struggle to discover what it means to be human is a poignant compliment to Kate’s dark determination to prove herself invulnerable, creating an irresistible tension that left me racing through the last half of the book. The story starts with a bang and ends with a spine shiver. I recommend it to fantasy readers who enjoy stories about dark family histories, enemy-to-ally relationships, and imaginative post-apocalyptic landscapes.

Happy reading!

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What to Read: The Merciful Crow

The Merciful Crow by Margaret Owen


Summary

The nomadic Crow caste is looked down on by everyone but their own. Yet without the mercy-killing magic of the Crow’s chiefs, the plague of sin would ravage the entire kingdom. When Fie’s clan makes a deal to help fake the death of a fugitive prince and his body guard, they find themselves thrust into a deadly battle for power. Sent on the run, the Crows can only hope to reach the prince’s allies before the enemy reaches them first.

Overall Impressions

Where to even start. This novel communicates the hurt and the helplessness born out of prejudice like no other fantasy book I’ve come across so far. The characters’ voices and the injustices they face are so clear and so human. They are diverse, complex, and expressive in a way that is equal parts beautiful and infuriating⁠. Additionally, Owen has created an awesome world of earthy, unique magic that I love—this is the kind of fantasy we need right now. I highly recommend this book for fans of Maggie Stiefvater and Leigh Bardugo, but really to all YA fantasy lovers in general.

Happy reading!

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What to Read: Other Words for Home

Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga


Summary

Jude is a young girl living in Syria with her family in a quiet town. Political unrest endangers cities around them while Jude dreams of growing up and becoming a movie star and her older brother grows increasingly invested with people who some dub “radicals,” but who he sees as people wanting better things for their country. When Jude and her mother are eventually sent to live in the United States, Jude must wrestle through the complexities of middle school life while learning how to reconcile two lands, and cultures, as home.

Overall Impressions

This is a story all about hope and the struggle that it blooms from. Jude is such a relatable, lovely character and her innocence makes her the perfect narrator to take on the heavy topics of the book. The lyrical and poetic structure of the novel crafts a story that handles big ideas in beautiful and simple terms that are easy to understand and take to heart. Not only did I love the story in its fictional elements, but I gained a deeper understanding of the beauty and struggle of another culture. This is the kind of book that bridges differences and opens us up to empathizing with those who we may think are too different from us, but are really looking for what all of us are looking for–love, security, and acceptance. Although this book is marketed for middle-grade readers, I would highly recommend it to readers of all ages.

Happy reading!

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Weekend Writing Prompt: The House on the Hill

Happy writing!

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What to Read: The Girl from Everywhere

The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig


Summary

The Temptation can travel to anywhere and to any time, so long as it has a map to get it there. Nix has spent her entire life helping her father, Captain Slate, travel the world–past, present, and future–to obtain the only thing he’s ever cared about: a map that will take him back to before his wife died in childbirth. But no one knows what will happen if they succeed. If Slate can Navigate their motley crew back in time to prevent his wife’s death, will Nix, this Nix, cease to exist?

Overall Impressions

I really liked the premiss of this book, and while the story itself felt simple, it was just the right amount of unpredictable and familiar. The characters’ relationships are engaging, frustrating, and intriguing throughout. I was immediately charmed by Nix and Kash as a partners-in-crime duo and subtly flirtatious duo. Their underlying charisma paired with the magically tinted world they reside in makes for a satisfying read. I recommend this book to those who enjoy YA novels with complex family relationships, a hint of romance, and time-bending adventures.

Happy reading!

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