“Starfish and coffee, maple syrup and jam, butterscotch clouds, a tangerine and the side of a ham”. This is what Cynthia had in her lunchbox in Prince’s song Starfish and coffee. Bear with me, this is going somewhere . . . You might not agree that Prince is a great musician, but you must concede he is a clever lyricist. In five minutes or less Prince can deliver organic characters from a simple sketch. He does this not by telling us who they are, but by revealing them through action and interaction. But he also does this by asking unorthodox questions of them. Recently I’ve had trouble encouraging one character in my novel to reveal herself. I was feeling restricted by conventional methods of characterisation – interviewing, for example can be tedious and I often end up with pages of dribble with no real substance. Who cares what her favourite colour is? Anyway, I decided to take a leaf out of Prince’s book; rather than ask direct questions like “Who are you?’ I decided to discover who she is through indirect questioning and by asking unconventional ones. Asking these types of questions took the seriousness out of character development and allowed my imagination to flow more freely. I found I was able to expand on the answers after half a dozen questions. Here some questions I asked:
- What does she have in her lunch box?
- What kind of bird is she? Why?
- Which song or songs best represent her?
- Which musical instrument is she?
- Which Rocky Horror Picture Show character is she?
- What does her bed look like?
- What is her favourite painting/artwork?
- Describe a time when she did something considered clumsy
- What does she think about when she crawls into bed at the end of the day, just before she drops off to sleep?
- What is her favourite fairy tale?
You could ask as many questions like this until you find your pace. It worked for me, maybe it will work for you if you’re having similar problems.