This is a little exercise I sometimes do, to help me write. It’s probably old news to some authors, and won’t work for others, but for me it’s a useful little bit.
I write Felix’s mysteries in first-person voice. This means that we see the case unfolds through Felix’s eyes, we learn the evidence at the same time as him, and we are privy to his current mood and thoughts about the possible resolution.
But, of course, he is not the only player in the field. The focus on Felix might mean that the other people (and they are people) around might be left out. Authors of large-scale fantasy, especially one told in third-person voice with multiple characters, will be familiar with techniques such as spreadsheets to keep track of events. I do that too — I have a timeline of events, mapping events to normal dates and Roman date-counting (oh, the headache!). It has a side bar about ‘behind-the-scenes’ events that Felix will find out later.
But this post is about a different exercise. Since I find it natural to tell stories in first-person voice, I do just that – for other characters. I let their words bleed into a page. I let them tell their own story, in their own words. I do not constrain this into an interview-type questionnaire. I let them tell me, in their own words and voice, where they are coming from, what happened to them, what their plans and aspirations are.
Essentially, it’s the beginning of the story. It’s what their path in life was, up until the book starts and Felix is hired for the case. If I keep it up during the novel, they can tell me, in highlights, what their views and actions are as events unfold. It serves a good grounding of events, giving the on-page description a richer breadth with a lot of off-page details.
It’s also a cool way to meet your own characters, even if it will never be published (because, y’know, spoilers). It also helps to humanise them further. I’ve noted before that I do not write “villains”. My antagonists are simply other people, at odds with Felix. This lets them put up their own case, their own reasons for actions.
It ends up as a couple of pages filed under ‘research’ for the novel. It helps me later, to ensure everything is constructed properly — from plot points to actions and reactions to emotions.
As I said above, I find this useful. I hope it might be of use to other authors as well.