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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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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Cool Links 10-20-18 Librarians, Jack-O’-Lanterns, Toy Train Tracks

Cool libraries, wild Jack -O’-Lanterns, and toy train tracks are among the cool links 10-20-18 edition.

20 Incredibly Creative Ways Librarians Spread the Magic of Reading

Librarians are the backbone of our library system (one might say the spine). To encourage kids (and adults) to read, they’ve put on some awesome displays and events.

Stuffed animal sleepover, anyone? Bring your favorite stuffed animal to the library and pick it up the next morning with their book recommendations.

A dress made from book covers? Yes, please.

cool links 10-20-18

If fictional characters used Twitter—read their Tweets on this bulletin board.

cool links 10-20-18

My favorite—a blanket fort in the library! What could be more awesome than exploring the magic tunnels between rows of books?

cool links 10-20-18

Most of these ideas can be adapted for use with your little reader. For the complete list, go here.

Cool links 10-20-18, Wild Jack -O’-Lanterns

Halloween is less than two weeks away. It’s a favorite time in my household as my husband’s birthday is the day before. He was almost a Halloween baby. Frightening!

If you’re into elaborate pumpkin carving (and who doesn’t want to be?), pick up some inspiration here.

cool links 10-20-18

From pumpkin pi (not pie), ghouls, and skeletons, these carvers showcase their talent!

The world’s longest wooden toy train track

Our final entry of Cool Links 10-20-18 follows a toy train track, the world’s longest, in fact. BigJigs Toys in Britain teamed with a design firm to build a 2.1 mile (!) long wooden toy train track. It broke an existing Guiness Book of World Records record (is that redundant?) and took over three hours to build plus another hour to push a toy train down the track. I wonder if the train itself was necessary to break the record? Heck, if I build anything that long, I’d want to make sure something rode it. Imagine being a minature railroad engineer!

Future and past posts

I’m on vacation from retirement (yeah, well deserved after 32 years), and then I’m attending the 20BooksTo50K indie writer conference in Las Vegas (just a 4 hr drive up the road), so my blog posts have been sporatic, at best. I’m hoping to add more original content by mid-November, but I never make promises I can’t keep.

cool links 10-20-18

I hope you enjoyed the Cool Links 10-20-18 edition. See you when I see you. Until then, blessings.

Feel free to share this post. If you’d like to receive advance sneak peeks of my fantasy romances, as well as special deals and advance launch information, be sure to sign up for my newsletter. Be a Sterling Reader!


Cheryl (ProWriter)

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