The Blog of John Hewitt

Using a normal day to define your character

The day in the life approach to developing a character is focused on describing a normal day in the character’s life before something important happens to change it. Most central characters begin a story in their normal world. At some point, an event happens that takes them out of their normal world and sends them on whatever journey the story has in store for them. Until that journey begins, your characters probably have a normal routine to their day that says a great deal about who they are and how they conduct their life.

  • The beauty of analyzing a character’s day is that there are always opportunities to delve as deeply into their actions as you want. You can take an event as simple as a person’s drive to work and learn a great deal about them.
  • What kind of car do they drive?
  • Do they keep it clean or is it messy?
  • What, if anything, do they listen to on the radio?
  • Are they the sort of person that fiddles with the radio as they drive, never satisfied with what they are listening to?
  • Are they the sort of person who puts on makeup or shaves while they drive?
  • Do they talk on the phone as they drive?
  • Do they get upset with other drivers?
  • Do they tailgate?
  • Are they careful or nervous drivers?
  • Do they plan their day as they drive?
  • Do they speed or run red lights?

As you assemble a person’s day you get a good idea of their traits and flaws. You can also determine who they interact with and care about, what their economic status is, what their general level of happiness or unhappiness is and plenty of other details. The key is to go deeply enough to get comfortable with the character and feel like you know them and know how they react in general to the events in their lives.

When approaching the daily routine, you can go a number of ways. You can move chronologically, go by major events, or just ask random questions about their day and see what the answers are. You can write it as if it were a short story, a daily planner or surveillance. Find an approach that you are comfortable with and explore the character.

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Building a character from multiple perspectives

This character building idea turns the concept of the interview around. Instead of interviewing a character about themselves, you interview the other characters in your story about one particular character. This gives you a profile of the character as seen by other people. It can also help you set up potential conflicts and plot points by revealing hidden bonds and tensions between characters.

Characters Change According to your Point of View

A character might consider herself to be insightful, brave and authoritative, while that character’s sister might view her as bossy, opinionated and unreliable. A husband may think his wife is supportive and loyal, while the other man she is secretly seeing believes she wants her husband dead. A man’s boss may think of him as the hard-working backbone of the company while that man’s children may think of him as the jerk who was never there when they needed him.

The most basic method of using other characters to create a profile is to have each give a general description from their perspective. A character might, for example, be profiled by her husband, sister, son, boss, co-worker, best friend, former friend, old boyfriend and neighbor. Each would discuss their opinion of her and experiences with her. Don’t feel as if all the characters who give there opinion have to be major characters or fully developed themselves. By using one character to profile another, you will find out more about both characters.

Use the Interview Process

If you want to be more creative, look for ways to make the interview process fit the nature of the story. For example, you can create the profile as if it were a class discussion, news article, police interview or a reality show. You can also set up general questions for every character to answer or tailor questions to fit each character’s position and perspective.