So, I was thinking about putting some more workshops up on my blog. Nothing too fancy, just bits and pieces that I use when I’m writing. Some you’ve probably seen before, others will be rubbish, but occasionally there might be a nugget of something useful that will help you when you’re working on your books. And why Wednesdays? Well, I like alliteration, so it was the only day that would go with Workshop.
When I run workshops, I always say that characters are the most important thing in writing. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got the most amazing plot in the world, if your characters look like they’ve been hacked out of cardboard then nobody is going to believe in them, and nobody is going to care what happens to them. Get your characters right and not only will people be desperate to know what happens to them, but those characters will actually end up writing the story for you. You just have to try to keep up.
I usually do a simple questionnaire for my main characters when I’m starting a book, just a quick interrogation. It helps you think about them as living, breathing human beings rather than literary devices. A while back, though, I found something a little more useful: Proust’s Questionnaire (if you read Vanity Fair magazine you’ll know all about this). Proust didn’t invent this, he was just famous for his answers (the manuscript of which sold a decade or so ago for a small fortune). I don’t think it’s designed for literary characters, it’s more about confessions, about discovering hidden truths in your own personality (so by all means have a go at it yourself). But it’s incredibly useful for getting into the head of the person you’re writing about.
Take an hour or so, sit down with your character, and ask them these questions. Don’t think too hard about the answers, try to switch off and let them do the talking. It’s fascinating what they come up with. If you have a go, post your answers in the comments section! Oh, and there’s also a version of this on Vanity Fair’s website which tells you which luminary you most resemble. Fun!
1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
2. What is your greatest fear?
3. Which historical or living figure do you most identify with?
4. Which living person do you most admire?
5. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
6. What is the trait you most deplore in others?
7. What is your greatest extravagance?
8. On what occasions do you lie?
9. What do you dislike most about your appearance?
10. When and where were you happiest?
11. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
12. If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?
13. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
14. If you died and came back as a person or thing, what would it be?
15. What is your most treasured possession?
16. What do you regard as your lowest depth of misery?
17. Who are your heroes in real life?
18. What is it that you most dislike?
19. How would you like to die?
20. What is your motto?
And feel free to add your own questions too!
See you next week for another Workshop Wednesday (any requests for workshops, just ask in the comments below)!