Monday, February 1, 2010

Even Vampires Need Dating Sites

Characters- Part I

This is the first of three short observations about Characters.

When we thought the world was flat no one found it very interesting. You sailed west, arrived at the edge, and fell off. But once it was determined it was round they lined up at the docks, signing on to explore the new and different lands that were promised just over the horizon. The same can be said of the characters that populate your stories. Your characters should never be flat. They should have depth and feeling, likes and dislikes. Characters should leave readers with the impression they have lives outside of your story. Whether primary, secondary or tertiary characters they need form, much like the influence Masaccio had on the art of the Renaissance.

Prior to Masaccio Italian paintings were flat, or idealized images of subjects. He changed this direction by adding perspective and giving weight to the people depicted in his alter pieces and frescos. In other words, they were more life-like. His subjects came alive. Instead of being cutout and glued down to a board they were passing through his life, pausing only long enough to be captured by the artist. Characters in a work of fiction should have this same weight and dimension. They should have lives outside of the pages of our stories.

I have established the main characters in my books, but I look forward to creating the secondary and tertiary characters for each new book in the series. There are a number of fun exercises you can use to develop characters. One of the basics is the Character Profile Form, or the “Dating Site Questionnaire.” This covers just about everything you would ever want to know about your characters, and then some. Starting with a basic form you should amend it to your specific genres, adding in any traits/characteristics you may not find on a dating site – i.e. Vampire: yes/no, Ghost: yes/no, etc. It’s been years since I was on a dating site, so I’m just assuming newly divorced vampires and ghosts aren’t signing up and looking for their perfect matches. Thinking about that now, there just might be a paranormal romance novel in that idea.

The form is very handy. I’ve seen it suggested this be done for only main characters, but I would recommend following through with all characters. Have some fun with it. You never know when you would need to know a small detail about a secondary character. This will save you the aggravation of thumbing through all those pages, looking for the sentence that mentioned whether Watson was shot in his left leg or left arm.

Next: Characters Part II-

What I learned sitting on a train platform in Worcester.

Photo courtesy


  1. Hi Mike:
    In the world of romance, answering these questions is also true of your secondary characters. We are taught we may not use everything about these people in the story, but it does help with defining how a person speaks, thus eliminating the need for a dialogue tag everytime the person speaks. And these questions hold especially true and important to the villian(s)in the story. The questionare helps us get inside of the villian's head and learn what makes him tick and why he is the way he is.
    Great topic--thank you! Juls

  2. Hi Michael,
    Great post! I love the form, and the Dating Site Questionnaire--wonderful tools! I counsel my writers to keep notebooks on characters as well. Another great tool is to write a short story about the main character, and the handful or so of secondary ones, not to be included in the novel, and taking place at a different time, in order to get to know them as real folks. And, as you put it so well--having lives outside this novel. I just blogged about characters as well (and my blog about Viewpoint is, as we speak, generating much discussion!.
    Nice Job!

  3. Hi Susan,
    Thanks for the kind words! I stumbled across your blog on characters and enjoyed it very much. I look forward to more of your viewpoints.