Tuesday, August 30, 2011

How well do you know your characters?

All through the how to books, you will find some writers put plot over character development and some the other way around. In my world, the two go hand and hand. The characters create the plot; the plot creates the characters.

When I begin a new project, my first step is to capture an idea germ. These little creatures come in many shapes and forms and can appear anywhere. My next step is to brainstorm around the idea germ. Who is the character? What does she want? How will she reach her goal? Who will stop her? What if the villain turns out to be a nice guy? And on and on goes the questions.

Then it’s time to get to know my characters. Usually through the brainstorming session at least 3-4 characters will show themselves and volunteer to be participants in the story at hand.

In short stories and novellas, the characters usually grow in my head. But with my work-in-progress, a novel, I’m feeling a need to really get in touch with these characters and what motivates them. The story is on the complex side and the better I know these people I’ll be spending so much time with the better we’ll all be.

I believe the information needed about your characters may depend on the story at hand and how long you anticipate on spending with them. That’s not to say knowing your character is any less important with a short piece.

Through the years, I’ve read many suggestions on getting to know your characters. From information sheets, to character interviews, and even producing scenes just to see how they react. I believe the depth and technique you use will depend on you as an author. You may not need to know your character’s favorite color or her favorite food. But, knowing such things can give you added insight you may find useful during your time with your new family.

Ask yourself, “What is my favorite color? In what way does this affect my everyday life?” Does it?

I’m partial to blues, maroons, and browns. I feel this aspect of me does affect my life to a certain degree. I find these colors to be earthly colors, but others may find them boring. What does this say about me? I think it has to do with my down to earth nature, my mature and responsible attitude. Not to say anything’s wrong with hot pink. It’s a fun color, but you probably won’t see me wearing it, at least not on a normal day.

Did your character have a happy childhood? Did you have a happy childhood? How did this affect you during your teenage years, your adult years? If you really think about it, a person’s likes, dislikes, childhoods, parents, and so on, make us who we are. So, why would it be any different for our characters?

Some authors take it further by producing birth charts, reading tarot cards, and even shopping as their character.

How well do you know your characters? How deep do you go?


Terry W. Ervin II said...

I'm more one to start with an idea than a character.

As for getting to know the characters, they're usually combinations of people I've known or even read about, and how they respond to a situation is based on my observation and opinion of how those character foundation folks would respond, initially. After that, the character takes on a 'life' of his or her own and responds to what happens based upon that.

At lesat that's how it works for me.

E.D. said...

Great post!

I always start with an idea. But once I start plotting in my head, a broad outline, I develop the character and worry about his or her personality and let that affect the plot. I often look to real life to get the initial idea and then drift into the world of fiction.

Joylene said...

Awesome post, Cher. I love hearing about your technique. We're all so different yet so connected.

Anonymous said...

Terry, E.D., Joylene,

Thank you all for your comments and thoughts.

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