*Contains a Pirate Princess and Dissertation Beasties*


There’s this thing called a D-I-S-S-E-R-T-A-T-I-O-N in my life right now. (Shhh, we don’t say its name. Might wake the beast.) I’m nearly done, but it’s consumed most of my days for the last couple months, making it impossible to do any writing that isn’t academic.

Did I say impossible?

Back up here. I haven’t done any writing exactly, other than for my D-I-S-S-E-R-T-A-T-I-O-N, but that doesn’t mean I’ve completely ignored the next project I want to pursue. In fact, a couple weeks ago I took a break from the beast and rejuvenated my mind by considering the main character of my next project.

Now, if you know me, you may know that I don’t do the things that some writers do when it comes to character creation. And by things, I mean character worksheets. I avoid these because they tend to be…boring? Trivial? But this is because they often consist of questions like the following:

  • What’s your character’s favorite food?
  • How tall is your character?
  • Would your character prefer to be called Sparkleunicorn-Pants of Tinselvale or Rainbow McMuffinface, the Pirate Princess?

Actually, that last one is intriguing. There’s a story in there somewhere.

But you get the idea. Part of my ambivalence to these sorts of questions stems from the fact that I’m not a visual person when it comes to characters, either reading them or writing them, and many of these worksheets tend to focus on the physical. But more importantly, I find that a lot of people spend so much time worrying these things to death, they never get around to telling the pirate princess’ story. And I’m here, above all, to tell a story.

Lo and behold, a fortnight ago, I did actually sit down and answer some questions from the point of view of my mystery character. And I think some of these were really useful. Are the answers set in stone? Nope. Do I have to include everything I wrote? Definitely not. But these answers I came up with are now floating in my brain, mingling, making little floating babies, and generally being interesting. And interesting is good. They’re forming a base that I’ll be able to build on when it comes time to do the actual writing–which is hopefully soon.

Let me share some of the questions I found useful. Maybe you will, too.

  • What is your birth name? What name do you use?
  • What is your most prized possession? Why?
  • What one word best describes you?
  • What is the worst thing one of your siblings ever did to you?
  • What is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?
  • What is the perfect gift for you?
  • What one act in your past are you most ashamed of? Proud of?
  • Do you think redemption is possible?
  • What’s the worst thing that can be done to another person? Could you do it?

Some of these were intriguing questions that allowed me to create intriguing answers only because of who this character is. (See, this person–probably–existed, which means there’s already something for me to play with. In a way, some of the questions I pondered already applied, so to speak; others were from left field.) The point is, I wouldn’t have necessarily thought they were great questions if I was trying to apply them to a different project and a different character. And that means you might not, either. But I encourage you to search out some questions that will give your creativity a jump start.

Perhaps most crucially, answering these questions from the character’s point of view gave me my first chance to hear this character’s voice. I haven’t nailed it yet, not by a long shot, but I enjoyed my first foray into this heart and mind. When I do get to sit down and write, I won’t be casting about for that crucial voice.

And if nothing else, this exercise kept me from falling into the D-I-S-S-E-R-T-A-T-I-O-N doldrums. I was afraid I would end up despising my subject by this point, but I don’t, and I think having this mystery character in the back of my head has helped.

How do you find your characters’ voices?

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