When I was in the midst of writing Project Sparkle, my tutor asked me about two adult characters in the book, a husband and wife. While some of my fellow students found the wife funny, my tutor was concerned that she was too mean and nasty, while the husband was too good. "Why did they ever get married?" she asked me. "What do they see in each other?"
At first the point seemed rather nit-picky. All couples grow and change in their relationships. These characters had grown apart. Besides, the story wasn't even about them.
But Julia's question stuck with me. And every time I wrote another scene where one of these characters appeared, I found myself asking, "Why are they still together?"
And because Julia was my teacher, and I wanted a good grade, I dug a bit further. I did some journaling on the characters' backgrounds, how they had changed, why. I discovered, rather surprisingly, that the wife was quite similar in personality to my main character. No wonder they fought with each other so much. I also explored the good aspects of the wife's personality, why her husband first fell in love with her, why he still loved her, and why they were a good match for each other, even though she could be mean and nasty. I realized the wife could go through her own small transformation at the end of the book. It's a scene I love, and several of my beta readers have loved it, too, including Julia.
I think that's one of the things that can make a novel really work: all those little details, minor characters who are made fuller, rounder, given opportunities to shine (in good or bad ways). But that's not what this post is about!
Rather, I've been thinking about the question lately: "What do they see in each other?"
You see, it hasn't been a one-off question. Project Demo also has one parent who is difficult (difficult parents, dead parents, all staples of teen literature). So I started wondering why the couple is still together. Do they gossip about each other? Complain to their kids? Avoid each other? File for divorce? Sure, they're minor characters, but exploring their relationship has helped me to flesh them out, and their stories.
A few other Julia questions have popped up while I've been working on Project Demo. Is this OTT (Over The Top, Julia's abbreviation for scenes that are a too dramatic or cliche)? Is it clear what the character's feeling here?
I like to think I'm building up a toolbox of great questions, and with my toolbox becoming a better self-critic. Do you have any questions you always ask of your writing?