Monday, August 5, 2013

"Getting to Know Your Characters" Guest Post by Jennifer Dahl

I’ve been a writer for a lot of years now; and I spent most of them alone with a yellow legal pad, a 19₵ medium-point, black ink BIC pen, and an unshakeable desire to introduce the characters in my head to the world at large. It wasn’t until, oh, 2004 or so that I stumbled upon a website called Absolute Write (, aka AW, and discovered I no longer had to be alone. There’s a whole galaxy full of people out there just like me, struggling to put words to paper – now mostly digitally – and when we’ve struggled alone as long as we dare, we can cry on one another’s shoulders and share the pain.

Since 2004, as both a member and a mod, I’ve read a lot of pleas for help on AW. Writers grappling with outlines, without outlines, plot bunnies, grammar, characters, spelling, doubt, fear, frustration, queries, agents, publishing (both self- and trade)… issues both concrete and ephemeral, but all of those issues had one thing in common: They kept writers from writing.

My biggest hang-up had always been plot and character development and after years of battle, the latter finally succumbed to a method that is as easy as you need and as intricate as you want to make it… and when I first put it together, I had one of those head-slapping epiphanies. I used it for the book I was working on and voila! Not only did I have a full-blown character, I had one with an attitude! I tucked my method away, kept it to myself, and never thought anyone else would be interested.

Fast forward to a few months ago… having hit a place in my current work-in-progress where both it and I needed a break, one from the other, I switched back to trying to help other writers. Within the space of one week, I found myself telling three separate people how I create characters… and the last one said, quite offhandedly, ‘You outta put that in a book!’

Well… uh… doh! So… I put together a booklet on my method and I published it through It’s not very thick; it’s not a hard read. It’s just one hundred questions you can sit down and ask the character you’re trying to create. The easy questions come first: Name, age, birthplace, heritage, vocation, hobbies, sex… then we get into the ones that require some thought on the part of the character.

Here… let me show you, using a few of the questions that – to me – yielded the most interesting results for my novel of witchcraft and betrayal in Tudor England, ‘Evil’s Own Trinity’. The character in the hot seat is Carolyn, and she’s the real witch responsible for Henry’s troubles.

Q: What do you want long-term?

You mean… why am I here this time? Why now? Because it is time for my master's will to be done. He wishes to show God his church isn't as immortal as he believes. I am here to effect its downfall.

Q: Why do you want it?

It will please my master. That will be good.

Q: What will happen if you don't succeed?

That will not please my master. This would be… bad.

Q: What makes you mad?

People thwarting me… they do not realize I will not be thwarted. They do not know how dangerous it is to get in my way.

Q: What makes you sad?

Remembering other times. Remembering… I do not remember much of other times.

Q: What makes you happy?

Accomplishing my tasks. There are many little things along the way that make me happy… putting my plan together, seeing it come to fruition… the first signs that show me I will be successful. A gift… a token of esteem… a kiss...

Q: What is your favorite food?

Food is food. I prefer quail… swan… lamb… but there have been times when any food at all was good. Better than starving to have anything on a plate.

Q: What is your favorite color?

Gold. Good, solid, spendable gold.

Q: Describe a 'perfect' day.

Plenty of food, plenty of wine, warm weather, and no one to please but myself. Alone.

Q: What do you fear? (It could be argued that the answer to this question is the most important, revealing of all.)

I do not believe I would enjoy being burned at the stake.

Those are just ten of the one-hundred questions in the booklet. Not all will fit your time period or your character, but you might be surprised. Once those characters ‘wake up’ and start talking, they’ll tell you all you need to know… and then you’re on your way together, no longer alone.

Thanks for inviting me to drop by and pontificate for a bit, Brooklyn! ‘Creating Characters: A Sure-Fire Method for Making Real People Out of Nothing at All’ is available in Kindle format for far less than a cup of fancy coffee, and in print as well, at Amazon… but I’d be happy to give a free e-book to one of your readers. Whoever leaves a comment below will get his/her name put in the proverbial hat and I’ll choose a winner at random.

Thanks again and good luck in your own endeavors!


Jennifer Dahl writes steamy historical fiction from her home in Oklahoma, where she lives with her husband, three cats, and Mindy, the Wonder Dog.

‘Before I Forget September’, a dark story of control from beyond the grave; ‘Evil’s Own Trinity’, a tale of witchcraft in Tudor England; and ‘This Lesser Earth’, her 1870s romance novel set in the heartland of America, are available in paperback and for the Kindle e-book reader at To watch the book trailers, visit YouTube.

In addition to ‘Creating Characters: A Sure-Fire Method for Making Real People Out of Nothing at All’ in the non-fiction section, she has also written a family memoir which includes a cookbook section filled with delicious recipes. It is available in paperback as well as Kindle (recipes only) from Look for ‘Best of Our Best – All American Recipes of an All American Family from All over the World’.

Visit her website,, for the latest news. She seldom Tweets, but can be followed @JenniferDahl_AW; and she can be friended on Facebook here.

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