My ongoing quest to create intriguingly mysterious outrageously sexy and sensually unbelievable realistic characters... Or Hey, who is that guy?
I'm working on creating several characters for a new story, yet again. Now I know other writers who don't use or need a deep process to make their characters work for them in a story. They can just start writing and the character comes alive for them and develops on its own. I say great for them.
As for me, I need something more. Maybe it's because I usually write SFR but I really have to know inside and out, those who are the people, or aliens as the case may be in my story in order to make them realistic.
I don't use the typical character sketch lists you see floating around everywhere. I prefer a great method created by romance author, Alice Orr. She holds workshops on writing and in my opinion, this is one of her best.
Here is a very brief description of her character method:
Just start writing about your character from birth to the present and let it rip. You can go back and fill in blank spaces later if need be. Look inside your character and see what makes him/her tick--what they feel about everything from being born to the nicks along the way of life. How they relate and handle everything. Ask your character questions. Write it like you're writing an article about someones life, or doing an interview. It really feels like uncovering a mystery. Then you'll have something to pull from when writing your story. Having the plot idea in mind first is helpful in creating your characters. That way they won't be hanging there out of context.
For me, this method does make sense and my characters seem to become so much stronger and more real. Since I do a lot of Sci-Fi world building and alien characters, I've found this process truly opens up my worlds. It does helps me uncover things I may miss in the new world or culture I'm creating. Really. Because to know my characters well is to know more about their cultural life too. Once I get going with it, my characters reveal hidden secrets about themselves and their world that I may not have even thought about.
Oh, and did I mention it's great fun. It doesn't take forever either. The other perk is that doing this can jump start a lagging creative process, and thus helps me get that story written.
I actually do this for all my characters, secondary and villains as well. All I can say is, this works for me. I feel I create better stories and deeper characters than if I just started writing without this character building process.
Anyway, I'm just sharing what helps me as a writer. How about you? What is your process when creating a new character? Do you have something you can share that has helped you along the way?
(In the photo: V-MODA clothing designed by Terri King.)
Hey, Kaye, I do something similar, but a bit more structured. I use a spreadsheet I developed and call a 'character map'. It has categories for every part of a person's life. I need to go through the process for a longer story and much of the information never makes it into the book. It helps me cement the characters so that I can put them in any situation and I'll know exactly how they'll react!
Kaily, thanks for sharing your method of character building. It's so true, most of the stuff we discover about our characters may never make it into the book, but we will know them and how they will react in any given situation!
Hi Kaye - I'm afraid I'm one of those writers who learns my characters as I go. I might try your method. I can see how it would help if I was a bit stuck. I usually have a vague idea about my characters and their conflicts before I start, but other than that I only have a vague idea of where I want to go. It all seems to work out in the end. :)
Hi Kaye, Sadly I learn my characters as I go too. Though I envy those who can use spreadsheets and other character road maps.
I like the suggestion, Kaye. I've found if I just jump in and start writing I sometimes hit a wall trying to figure out what motivated the character to act in a certain way, which then gets me thinking about his/her past. Having it mapped out to begin with might help. :) Good luck on your new wip!
I have to have a picture of the character and then a name that suits them perfectly. Once that's done, they then seem to evolve more, especially as I write the first draft.
Shelley, your writing experience brings some of us to our knees!
Amber, it is the same for you. There are those among us who admire the way you can write.
Emma, I know what you mean because I've done the same. That's one reasone I decided to do the character process.
Still, if I have a really great idea, I might just jump right into the writing. Since I'm a planner, that doesn't happen a lot. Like Kaily, I usually have to let the characters tell me their story first.
Debs, sounds like you have your own fab method. It's good if you can let characters evolve in a first draft. And I like that picture idea!
You might hate me, but I'm one of those people who the characters just come to them. I very rarely, in fact never outline a story. When I get an idea, the most I do is sketch out some notes based on what my Muse has revealed. The most work I do for a story isn't outlining or character design, it's research depending on the story.
My Gods At Work series requires no research because I'm such a mythology nut that you could call me an encyclopedia of obscure facts.:-) But my current WIP is set in historical times and requires a great deal of research. In fact, it's set on just one day and requires a lot of research into the timeline of events for that day. I have reams of notes for that.:-)
Hi Kat! Wow, I don't hate you-- I admire you. And I know what you mean about the research. I'm a bit like you when it comes to SF facts. But when I wrote my Knight series, I researched the heck out of it because it's basically set in the 12th century. But I actually love the research part.
Sorry, I'm another one of those who write as I go. Doing so is what gives my stories those intriguing twists. My betas say, "Hey, I didn't see that coming," and the truth is, I didn't see it either. Of course, as a one time Psych major and studier of personality traits, I usually have a good idea of what type of personality my characters have when I start writing, and have them act accordingly. The rest I let them show me as the story unfolds. The great thing about writing is that there is no perfect method. It's whatever works for you that counts.
I start vague, too, though sometimes I use screenwriting/playwriting techniques to make sure I have a nice balance of characters. I'm often surprised when I throw a character trait in, for no apparent reason and it turns out to be key to the story. Same with plots. I find if I try to do too much too early, the characters and the story slip away from me, or feel "been there, wrote that."
I find it fascinating how we all approach the process, though. I tried a lot of different approaches when I first started, sort of feeling my way to my method, rather like I feel my way through my stories. :-)
I have my own character sheet that I fill out that is detailed enough for me to keep facts straight, but still leaves room for surprises. I don't make my characters tell me everything, but I expect to know enough. We have a partnership. I'm one of those plotsers. Plot a bit, but still have to have some surprises! But I tend to be very conscious of whether or not my character's action is in character for them. If it's not, I try to rework the situation or give them a reason.
Hi Zena! Nice to see you here. It looks like many here are pansters, so it is fantastic if that works for you.
Hello Pauline! Thanks for your view and advice. It is aways appreciated. I do like your scren/play idea. I agree, it is fasinating how we all have different ways of making the stories happen.
Darcy! Glad to see you here as well. Good idea to leave room for the creative process. I do like to work that way as well.
I think that getting to know characters for me, keeps me from running into walls latter, or having a character do something 'out of character' and then having to fix the plot or the character!
All in all, no matter our method, I think it's all about leaving wiggle room for our plot and characters to unfold.
Hi! This is a very interesting discussion on how writers actaully go about creating their stories and characters. I am enjoying all the different opinions.
Writing to let you know I've nominated you for the Stylish Blogger award. Click on the link for details: http://newsensuality.blogspot.com/2011/01/stylish-blogger-award.html
I have a general idea and then start writing the story and see how the characters come out. Maybe I should give your method a try.
Linda, if how you write works for you, and so far it has-- keep on with it! As we know, it's all in the revisions and rewriting. I find this method saves me some time in the long run, but it may not be for everyone.
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