At the Crime Writing and Getting Published workshops at the 2014 Waterford Writer’s Weekend, I was struck at the importance of getting to know your characters.
Known as the Waterford Writer’s weekend since 2011, this festival of writing had originally started out in the 1990s as the Seán Dunne Writer’s Festival, and takes place in the city.
Based just down the road in New Ross and with a desire to flesh out (and finish) a 50,000-word book in progress for half my life, I had signed up for author Alex Barclay’s Crime Writing Workshop on Saturday and Vanessa O’Loughlin of Inkwell and Writing.ie’s workshop on Getting Published on Sunday. I also attended a Q&A session between Vanessa and author Jane Casey on Saturday.
The recurring – and unexpected – theme for me was characters. Who knew they were so important?
As Alex spoke about creating “a rich character that has depth” and writing a biography of your main character, a thought struck me. What would a character’s Twitter bio/LinkedIn profile be? People have very short attention spans and patience online so in my work as a copywriter at Web Content Partners, I work closely with corporate clients to communicate information to their customers in a concise and targeted manner.
Your character described in 140 characters
How about knowing your character so well that you would know what exactly their Twitter bio would say? Essentially this is boiling down what they deem important to communicate to others about themselves into 140 characters.
My personal Twitter profile currently includes different interest areas I tweet about; use Twitter to read about; and that are relevant to my personal/professional mix on Twitter.
Twitter bios are very personal in style and substance so a read of some of the articles to be found when you Google ‘most famous Twitter bios’ will give you insight into where you can go with it.
Cast a professional eye
Another question to ask is does your character have a LinkedIn profile? A LinkedIn profile is more than a CV. It allows you lots more space to go into detail of achievements in various roles. LinkedIn profiles fall into the following categories:
2. Unused and barely filled out
3. Filled out with minimum detail and not updated regularly
4. Filled out normally
5. Overkill of adjectives and detail
Look through LinkedIn’s help section to see examples of what is included in a LinkedIn profile. Do you know where your character went to school, what their first job was?
If you’re a Facebook user, you’ll notice Facebook keeps on prompting you to further add details – the latest I saw was “who is your favourite athlete?”
What Facebook asks is a great way to get to know your character – not just the answers, but do they actually allow those details to be public, do they allow just friends to see these details or do they decide not to share these details at all?
The motivation for Facebook is advertising revenue. You can target ads based on user preferences. You can also go through the advertising process without paying a cent to find out details about the general population eg you could whittle it down to how many engaged men between 30 and 35 like watching Coronation Street and play rugby in a certain geographic area. This would give you a sense of how ‘normal’ your character actually is. If you are developing a character it will give your lots of ideas for interest areas and personality types.
(The potential reach for such an ad with the above criteria is 4,800 by the way for Ireland).
Keeping the Pinterest
Another way to get inside your character’s mind and feelings as well as getting an idea of what they like aesthetically is to see what would they use Pinterest for?
An image-based website, some people use it to ‘pin’ or store ideas for interiors or for motivational quotes on beautiful backdrops. This is a way to see inside your characters’ minds.
Of course, depending on the era, location, and socio economic setting maybe your character doesn’t do or have access to social media.
You can still use it for prompts to get to know them better and build out that biography.
(c) Elaine Larkin
A version of this was originally published on Lark.ie.