The 4 Questions You Need to Ask Every Character

The 4 Questions You Need to Ask Every Character

When I’m teaching kids about creating characters, I have them bring in their favorite stuffed toys to class and interview their toys using a worksheet. At the top of the worksheet, I have them write the toys’ names, ages, and physical descriptions. Then they have to “ask” their toys these four questions:

  • If you could have one wish, what would it be?
  • What stops you from making that wish real?
  • What could be the worst thing to happen to you?
  • What would you do if that worst thing happened?

For most of the students, the answers are the same:

  • To be real.
  • I’m a toy.
  • To become unstuffed.
  • Get sewn back up.

When I’m creating a new story, I ask every character those questions, regardless of how big or small the role is. And I push past clichés to get at the heart of every character. (For example: Yes, dying could be the worst thing to happen to you, but it will happen eventually for every human! Let’s dig deeper…)

For a four-year-old character I’m working on:

  • If you could have one wish, what would it be? To fly like a fairy.
  • What stops you from making that wish real? I don’t have any wings.
  • What could be the worst thing to happen to you? Losing Mail Fairy (treasured toy).
  • What would you do if that worst thing happened? I would have nightmares.

The answers can be simple, but they have to give a glimpse into the heart of the character. And, of course, your story should include all the answers. I’ve found that the best stories have a character arc for every character.

When I started a new story and was browsing through a list of “character templates,” most of them seemed too intense for me. For my purposes, I found these four questions provided the perfect launching point to get my story going.

What other questions do you like to ask your characters?

Ode to Audiobooks

Ode to Audiobooks

Last year, I read 47 books. Of those 47, 36 I “read” as audiobooks. My fourth-grader listens to audiobooks, too, and when I told her to write those down on her school reading chart, she said they didn’t count because she didn’t read them herself, as in looking at a paper book. I love paper books, and I make my children read them. But I had to assure my fourth-grader that listening to an audiobook counts as reading it. The purpose of a book is to tell a story, whether by eyes or ears.

Reasons why I prefer audiobooks:

  1. I’m a slow reader. So listening to the audiobook isn’t much slower than actually putting my face in the book. (Note to self: take a course in speed reading and read all the books.)
  2. I’m a multi-tasker. How many hours I’ve been listening to an audiobook in a day usually correlates with how clean my house is. The more I’ve listened, the cleaner my house is.
  3. I’m a mom. Most of my paper-reading happens at bedtime with my little women. We also enjoy listening to audiobooks together in the car.
  4. I like to be entertained. Some of the narrators are simply fantastic voice actors. Some of my favorites have been Jim Dale (duh!) for the Harry Potter series and Jenna Lamia, who has narrated The Help, Moon Over Manifest, The Shiver Trilogy, Icefall, The Secret Life of Bees, and more.

How I listen to audiobooks:

  1. Overdrive app (I use this app the most), using library account
  2. 3M Cloud Library app, using library account
  3. CDs, borrowed through the library or purchased (great for in the car)
  4. with it’s monthly subscription
  5. Buying a download of the audiobook from an online store

I love Overdrive and 3M because I can borrow “e-audiobooks” from my local library and download it right onto my phone through those apps. When my books are due, they automatically delete from my app (so no late fees!).

My reading goal for this year is to have finished 52 books, whether by paper or audio.

Do you enjoy listening to audiobooks? Do you have a favorite narrator?


Review: Secrets of Neverak by Jacob Gowans

ATOLAS 2Title:  A Tale of Light and Shadow: Secrets of Neverak
Author: Jacob Gowans
Publisher: Shadow Mountain
Page Count:  512
Format: Hardcover

From the Publisher:

Henry Vestin always believed that, despite being a carpenter with no training in swordplay or survival, he could lead Isabelle and his friends to safety. He thought he could defy an emperor and protect Isabelle from harm. He was certain that love and friendship would help them survive.

He was wrong.

The second volume in the Tale of Light and Shadow series follows Henry and his friends after the disastrous battle at the Iron Pass. Horrors await the band of travelers in strange new lands. Crippled and broken, Henry must rely on his friends more than ever. New allies and foes find them at every turn, but which are friendly and which are deadly? Isabelle, now a slave in Neverak, finds herself surrounded by enemies, uncertain about the fate of her friends, and relying on only herself to survive. The Emperor moves forward with his plans of conquest, spurred on by the Seer’s dark prophecy, but he has not forgotten those who defied him.

Return to the world of Atolas, where swords and daggers extend life or end it, where feuds and friendships influence kingdoms and courtships, and where magic is feared by all but a few.

About the Author:

Jacob Gowans is a resident of Arizona, working as a dentist for the Indian Health Services. He is husband and father to four children. When not working or writing, he enjoys watching sports, reading YA novels or the works of Stephen King, running, and chasing his kids around the house. He was raised in Papillion, Nebraska, lived for two years in Baltimore, and graduated from dental school at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.

My Review:

I had the pleasure of reviewing the first book in this series, and Gowans continues to keep a great pace with his storytelling. Something that I looked forward to most was learning more about the magic system in Atolas, something the first book only briefly touches. Secrets of Neverak dives deeper into the magic, and I enjoyed learning about its unique twist and mysteries yet to be revealed. Also fun was the development of the characters Ruther (a glutton learning to care for others) and General Attikus (of the opposing side). The second book in this series follows more people as the plot casts a wider net. At the end of the story, I was disappointed that it was over because I wanted to find out what happened to everyone! ‘Til the next book!

How do you get writer friends?

When I first started writing, it was a lonely process. I didn’t have any friends who aspired to write novels, and I didn’t know how to find other writers.

When I completed my first novel, I started a blog and opened a Twitter account. I followed my favorite authors and agents on Twitter, and I continued to blog about my writing journey. Eventually, someone found my blog and commented on one of my posts that I should enter a contest called “GUTGAA” (Gearing Up To Get An Agent). That was where my lonely writing journey ended and I discovered a whole online community of other crazy people like me, a.k.a. writers.

RuthAnneGUTGAA had a critique group pairing service, and that was where I met my critique partner RuthAnne. I entered more pitch contests, made more online friends, and my motivation skyrocketed.

When I was revising the query for my first novel, I wanted to beef up my bio section, so I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, SCBWI. When I say “joined” I really mean that I just paid the dues and got to name drop them into my query. A few months later, I attended the regional SCBWI conference. I didn’t know anyone, and usually I’m fine with sitting by myself, but I figured this was an entire conference room full of people I could walk up to and have something in common to talk about. So I scanned the faces and made my way to two nice-looking people. I can’t remember the exact words I said, but it was something to the effect of, “Can I sit with you? We look like some of the youngest people here, so we should band together.” Joanne and Jessica have been my friends ever since. (And they still joke about when I approached them that first time.)

I was in luck because they knew a lot of other writers in the area, who have also become my friends. Through SCBWI, I meet more local writers every time I attend an event. Now, my writing community doesn’t just exist online. I see my local writer friends about once a month, and we can talk about things you just can’t talk about online.

(One more plug for SCBWI: writers from all stages of the process, from just wanting to be a writer to being a NYT best-selling author, are welcome in SCBWI, and you can meet all of them at your local events.)

My writer friends, both online and local, give me strength to keep going when my motivation is low. They keep me accountable by asking about my progress on a certain project, and they understand the highs and lows of publishing.

So, how do you get writer friends?

How did you get your writer friends?

Review: Maybe Today by Butler/Freeman

MaybeTodayProduct Details
Title: Maybe Today
Authors: Emily Belle Freeman, David Butler
Publisher: Ensign Peak
Retail Price: $15.99
Page Count: 120
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 9781629720388
On Sale: September 8, 2015
Preorder now!

From the Publisher:

Just one of those days…

The kind of day that hints toward disappointment, discouragement, and the possibility of failure.

Maybe you are facing tasks that seem beyond your ability to accomplish, or a stack of things left undone.

Or perhaps today holds unexpected adventure, filling your heart with the anticipation of good things to come.

Or maybe today you found yourself weary from waiting on the Lord or in need of courage to face the unknown.

Yes, it’s quite possible that this day is one of those.

But maybe today could be different.

What does your soul need? What do you long for? This path that you are on, where is it taking you? How do you fill your unscheduled moments? Is your heart content? Perhaps you feel as if you are missing something. If you want life to satisfy your soul, you have to start living the soul-satisfying life.

Maybe Today describes five holy patterns that, when lived daily, will lead to the soul-satisfying life.

  • Tilt Your Soul
  • Let Down Your Bucket
  • Tune Your Heart
  • Take Off Your Shoes
  • Be All In

In this art-filled piece, the authors create a masterful collection of thoughts and ideas surrounding Jesus Christ being that link to a soul-satisfying life. With the beauty of photography and words from some of the most inspirational individuals, dip into the spiritual pool.

My Review:

I love it when something simple comes along and changes your life. Like this little book. Through quotes and stories, this book encourages you to focus on the principles of prayer, reading scripture, service, gratitude, and commitment to live a “soul-satisfying life”.

I was excited to see another title coming out from Emily Belle Freeman. I reviewed her books Celebrating A Christ-Centered Christmas and Celebrating a Christ-Centered Easter and loved both of them. They put more meaning into my family’s celebrations of those holidays, and now Maybe Today has put more meaning into my every-day living.

Maybe Today reminded me that happiness has more to do with what’s going on inside of me than the outside. I need that reminder every few months or so. Who do you know that’s in need of that reminder? Are you? Go forth and read.

Emily Belle Freeman & David Butler