Avoiding TMI When Getting to Know Your Characters

I saw a post on a writer group the other day where the poster was talking about a writing class she recently attended in which the person leading the class suggested getting to know your character's astrological sign and their blood type to assign character traits. I've seen all kinds of suggestions when it comes to how an author can get to know their characters better, but this was a first.

Considering this was on a fantasy-related board, you can imagine the comments, like:

If you're writing a fantasy world, how can you attribute character traits without creating new astrological signs based on their star configurations?

And, if you're writing medieval-type fantasy, how the heck does your character know their blood type?

All good questions.

I've also seen the "ask your character 50 questions" method suggested, too. With that method, however, I argue that at a certain point, you the author, are just making things up without any input from your character.

All of this begs the question in my mind: how much information is too much information when it comes to your characters?

Should you also know what foods they hate, or what gives them gas, or how about what their gas smells like? Surely, if you think your character's sign or blood type is important, so must be knowing about the state of their gut bacteria. Right?

My general advice when it comes to getting to know your characters is: less is more.

Beyond their name, race, body composition (height/weight), geographical location, and general background, there are few other things that you need to know that are relevant to your story. I'll allow for the character's favorite color, too, if you really care about that.

Just be cautious that you aren't putting too much of your own spin on your character's traits and habits. If you play the 20 questions game, and you don't get a response right away from the character in your head, move on.

If I ask my characters their favorite colors? They quickly sound off as follows:

  • Aeryn: blue
  • Theo: red or blue or sometimes yellow (did I mention she's about 10?)
  • Thystle: black
  • Shaun: green
  • Sara: pale blue

That's about all the extra info I need from my characters. Everything else, I'll find out along the way.

A.M.

Need some help with your character building? I can help with that.