Character Development—Ask the What If? Questions

Character Development —Ask the What If? Questions

I’m starting a new series, and part of what’s involved is defining the characters. I know something happened to my Main Character (MC) in his past that affects his actions now. But how? Is he arrogant? Deceitful? Ashamed? To find out, I took part in an exercise from The Anatomy of Story by John Truby—Look for what’s possible, also known as asking the What If? questions.

Look for What’s Possible

What is promised by the idea of the premise of your book? One way author John Truby suggests is asking the “What If?” questions. Doing so defines what is allowed in the story world; helps you explore your mind; and fleshes out details, making your world more compelling to readers.

He suggests brainstorming ideas, leaving judgment for later.

What makes your character tick?

I know my character, Rory Harper, has an extraordinary sense of smell that he trades on for a living. I know something happened when he was a child that caused a tragedy, something connected to his talent. With those two bits of information I asked the What If? questions.

  • What if he resents his talent but clings to it because then he has no excuse for what happened?
  • What if he’s afraid to embrace the full scope of his talent?
  • Is he afraid the past will repeat?
  • What if his failure was a fluke or the disaster had nothing to do with his talent and everything to do with him? (aka, he’s a failure)
  • What if he gives himself permission to like, even love, his abilities?
  • Would the disaster have happened anyway, with or without his talent-driven warning?
  • What if he’s so dependent on the resentment he feels for his talent that he’ll never overcome his feelings?
  • What if he’s forever stuck where he is? It’s a comfortable rut, but a rut nevertheless.
  • What if he can never forgive himself?
  • If he’s forced to do the thing he least wants to do (use his talent to help others when it failed him in the past), will it allow him to grow? (character arc)
  • What if his participation in helping others with his talent only makes things worse?
Ask the What If? questions

geralt / Pixabay

Asking What If? Deepens Your Understanding of Your Character

By asking these questions, I added another layer to Rory’s character and understand him better. The disaster in his past and how he assimilates it makes him both resent his talent and have an obsessive need to be perfect with its use. (A perfect talet eliminates past mistakes). Overcoming these thoughts throughout the story will force him to face the past, realize it should not define him, and send him toward a better life.

I encourage you to ask the What If? questions about your character. Let his problems occur organically, and you’ll develop a richer, more layered character with which your readers will identify.



Related article: The Five Whys

On a sidenote: Happy Birthday to my wonderful husband of thirty-six years (wow!). If not for you, I never would have written Word One.

GDJ / Pixabay





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Write Your Book! Fail Often, Fail Fast, Fail Forward #ThrowbackThursday

Write your book.

Write your book. Come on, do it. Stop saying, “one day I’ll write a book”. In fact, stop saying, “one day”.  Stop being afraid. Are you afraid of failure? What’s the worst that could happen? You fail. You’ve never done that before? What’s the best that can happen? You succeed. Maybe you’ll never make the New York Times bestseller list, but not many do. At least you’ll be able to say you’ve written a book.

Take it to the next level. Publish it! Yes, put it out to the world. Be bold. Be brave. Write your book and claim authorship. Self-publishing tools are so easy and available. If I can do it, and I’m hanging onto the tech world by my fingernails, then you can do it. If you need guidance, check out my self-publishing Pinterest board.

Are you afraid of success? Some are. By succeeding, the world validates you and your talent.  Success is a rare thing for those who don’t believe in themselves. It might skew their world. Be bold and change your world.

Take a risk. I’ve taken many over the years. I wasn’t born or raised as a risk-taker. In my time (let’s talk Don Draper) little girls grew up to be wives or mothers. Careers, if you were so bold to seek one, were limited to secretary, teacher, stewardess, and nurse. Oh, and clerical, a career (!) I entered, which morphed into analytical research.

How I changed into a risk taker

My husband, Mr. Hello-how-long-have-you-worked-here, Mr. Extrovert, pulled and prodded my true personality to the forefront. I’m still an introvert, by I’m a highly-functioning one, which means I can walk and talk in public at the same time; I can take command of a room full of authors; I’m proud of my writing and WILL talk about it; and I’ve been known to strike up conversations with strangers. (Gasp!)

One of the first steps I made in the “write your book” journey was to join a writers group. Then split off and start another. Then WRITE THE DAMN BOOK. And—get this—finish it and send it to a publisher.

Non-writing related, we’ve failed often, failed fast, and failed forward many times. We’ve started many businesses. Some have failed (pre-internet gift baskets), some have succeeded (office cleaning, which paid the mortgage every month). Though we don’t consider it a fail, some might because we didn’t “stick it out”—In 2012, we quit well-paying jobs, sold our house and most of our possessions, and moved to Hawai’i. We lived there for three years, six months and twenty-one days. Was it a fail? Yes and no. We never regained our income, but we lived in paradise.

We took a risk. In our minds, it paid off. It might not have. That’s our view of life. Try it. Go on to the next thing if it doesn’t work.

Fail often, fail fast, and most importantly, fail forward. We wouldn’t be where we are if we hadn’t tried.

Now it’s your turn. Write your book. Take a chance. Believe in yourself.



This has been a #ThrowbackThursday production, dipping our toes into the memories of October, 2018.

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How to Write a Book in a Month

November is National Novel Writing Month

As most writers know, November is National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo. An estimated 400,000 aspiring authors will attempt to write 50K words in 30 days, November 1st to 30th. It’s a daunting, challenging task to write a book in a month.

I’ve officially participated in November, April (spring NaNoWriMo), July (Camp NaNoWriMo), and unofficially on my own timeline. I always make the 50K count because a) I like a challenge, and b) nobody tells me what I can’t do.

write a book in a month

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