Applying Hot Iron: How To Deal With Recalcitrant Characters (A Repost)

Okay, so I am totally planning to cheat over the next couple of months and pull out some of the most popular posts from my old blog about writing to repost here. A couple of people have asked me for more writing-related stuff lately, and this is the easiest way to accommodate that when my blogging time is sorely limited. Plus, convenience O:) So without further ado, Applying Hot Iron: How To Deal With Recalcitrant Characters.


Let me introduce you to Deviran. He’s a co-MC of my Magic Eyes Universe books, the sensible and silent to Mercury’s loud and silly. I adore Deviran. He’s gorgeous, he’s smart, he’s sensible, dependable, reliable… And silent. Oh. So. Silent.

Okay, I can deal with having a character who’s the strong silent type. I can deal with having a character who doesn’t have much to say. I can…


See, what’s really frustrating about Dev is that he’s not only the silent type in-story, he’s also silent out of story. Which makes it near impossible to find out anything about him. I love him, I adore him – but who the heck is he??

So. Today, let’s look at some techniques you can use on recalcitrant characters – and if you have any others, leave them in the comments. Trust me, I need all the ammunition I can get.

1) Interviews. These work best for chatty characters, but a few well-leveraged questions can often open up the silent characters too. If you’re really having trouble, consider asking a friend to play the role of interviewer while you respond in-character. That way, you won’t be able to anticipate the answer because you won’t know the question.

2) Role Playing. For your character, that is. Tear them out of their own story/universe, and make them uncomfortable. Throw them to the sharks, have them fight a tiger, expose them to any nasties your other worlds might be harbouring. Anything and everything – throw them at your character, and watch and see how they respond. Liana Brooks calls this one the Reaction Chamber.

3) Kill Them. Again, and again, and again. As creatively and painfully as you can, on paper for the world – and your character – to see. Have a competition with a friend to see how many deaths it takes before the character is willing to crack and give you information.

4) Find the Detail. Often, there is one particular detail about a character that triggers off a whole ranges of questions and answers, like a chain reaction. It’s just a matter of finding the right detail. Go through everything you know about your character, piece by piece, and threaten you character with either the destruction of this detail, or the reversal of it. Threaten to make the guy a girl, the mother a teen – or in my case, threaten to give the only guy in the entire Academy without a familiar a new one.* o.O

5) Ask Someone Else. Like everything in life, it really is possible to get too close to the situation. Sometimes it’s hard to see the character for the characteristics – or vice versa. Ask a friend (preferably a writer, or at least someone like an actor who is used to the business of characterisation) to read over what you’ve got written down with your character (including any or all of the above suggestions) and tell you what they think of your character. You might be surprised at how clear the character is to someone who isn’t you.

With Deviran, 4 and 5 were most successful. I found out a whole bunch about his past and now all of a sudden who he is in the present makes sense.

Have you ever used any of these tactics with success? What other suggestions do you have for dealing with recalcitrant characters?


* Actually, the information I got when I tried this technique way back in 2010 when I wrote the original post is the information I used to write the relatively recent short story, The Making of An Overlord.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *