ROMANCING SFF: “So, How’s Your Love Life?” and Other Questions to Ask Your Characters
By Katherine Garcia Ley
We’ve all seen them: the thirty pages of interview questions you should ask your characters. The analytical texts on astrological signs. The “ultimate of ultimate” tools offering twenty-some Enneagrams for character development. All these resources are fantastic. Heck, I use them, and they’re amazing. I’m a list-loving personality theory hoarder.
These are great tools to use to build characters, but as romance writers (and anyone with a bit of love in their stories), are we asking specific questions about our character in relation to love?
Whether it’s for romance novels or romantic subplots, it’s incredibly important to examine a character’s love life, their perspective on love, and biases on love, because it strengthens arcs, dialogues, and the tone of the story. Honing in on their love life offers insight ranging from a character’s body language to their voice.
Let’s discuss an imaginary trope heroine, a witch named Antonia (she/her), as an example. What is her philosophy on love? She was once a hopeless romantic until her partner left her right before the Handfasting Ceremony. Now she’s rightfully pissed, and maybe she refuses to be seen as a hopeless romantic any longer. With one question, we’ve discovered a few angles we can work for her story.
Now we know that coming across couples holding hands or smooching sends her stomach sinking past the earth’s molten core. Her body language is stiff, and she stomps past bridal shops, if there are any in her world.
Dialogue plays another significant role when we ask our characters questions about love. Antonia doesn’t want to be perceived as dim-witted about love ever again. Maybe her tone, volume, and the way she talks will be affected. Perhaps she’s sarcastic. Perhaps her volume crescendos when asked about that dreadful word: LOVE. Remember that even in dialogue, we’re still writing character.
The deal is this: We didn’t just ask Antonia about her backstory or her favorite ice cream flavor (probably lavender mint). We asked her about her love life, and much was revealed.
Consider these starter questions to get to know your character’s love life:
- What is your character’s perspective on love? Do they hate it? Don’t believe in it? Add your answer to their backstory and figure out why they have that perspective on love.
- How do they want to be seen by others when it comes to love? Confident? Curious? Downright vengeful?
- Do they think they deserve love?
- How do they treat family and friends who are in love? I love this question! It’s a great opportunity to observe your character’s responses and body language.
- Has your character ever been in love? Did they want to be? How did it go for them?
- How do they respond to conflict when it comes to their lover or love interest?
- Do they believe in happy endings?
- What is the best thing a lover could do to them? The worst?
- What is their idea of a perfect date? We can have so much fun with this question, too. As writers, we can subvert our character’s expectations by challenging what they believe is true or “perfect.”
This is not an exhaustive list, nor do we have to answer all these questions. When I have trouble figuring out what my character will say next, I look back on my questions and remember how the hero/heroine should be responding. Hint: it also helps differentiate your characters! Let your characters own their bias, their backstories, and their perspectives on love.
The takeaway is to pause and examine love from our character’s point of view. Answering these questions will reveal your character’s dialogue, tone, voice, style, biases, relationship building, and so much more.
Katherine Garcia Ley writes dark stuff with lots of kissing. Her short stories are forthcoming, or published at Fantasy, Daily Science Fiction, Mermaids Monthly, and Hyphen Punk. When she’s not chasing around her awesome, neurodiverse kids, you can find her cooking, playing video games with her husband, or re-watching Star Wars. Visit her website and subscribe to her newsletter at katherineley.com.