Character Creation Process

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Sommer Leigh
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Character Creation Process

Post by Sommer Leigh » February 8th, 2012, 11:49 am

Tell me about your character creation process. Everyone has their own "method" and I don't think any one is necessarily better than the next.

So how do you go about developing your main character? Your villain? Side characters? Do you use the same method or different? If you are a pantser, do you plan any of this out? If you're a planner, do you ever develop your characters organically as the story unfolds or do you know everything about your character, down to their preference between grape jelly or strawberry jam, before you even start writing?
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amandalinehan
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Re: Character Creation Process

Post by amandalinehan » February 8th, 2012, 2:53 pm

When I'm developing my characters, I basically just pull out a piece of paper (and for some reason I often like to do this with paper/pen rather than on the computer, I don't know why) and start writing down everything that I know about them, in a free-writing kind of fashion. This is fun and the characters get fleshed out as I write more.

I don't know everything about them when I start writing however, I continue to learn about them as the story unfolds. Just like in the way you get to know someone in real life, you begin to learn about them, but you don't know everything about them all at once.

Also, I might interpret something about a character that turns out to not quite be true. For instance, I was developing a character once where I thought she carried around a lot of guilt, but then realized that wasn't the whole truth while writing the story. She was angry about something, and maybe there was some guilt on top of that, but I picked up on the guilt, rather than the anger at first.

I love the process of developing characters. :)

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Re: Character Creation Process

Post by Mark.W.Carson » February 8th, 2012, 3:08 pm

I try and figure out what the story is and It hits me who the major players are. At first, there are a lot more than I need, and then they get pared down to who actually has a "voice" in the story. Sometimes I have to add one here, or there, but they come to me and it's like they are actually becoming more deep despite my effort rather than because of it.

I am not saying my characters are all deep and interesting people with wants and desires all unique toward their goals, much the way real people tend to be, but they grow with every pass I give over my MS. I must say, I have many more passes to go.

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Re: Character Creation Process

Post by dios4vida » February 8th, 2012, 5:28 pm

My stories usually start out as a premise, quest, or other situational aspect of the plot. I build on that until I have a good idea of the hero's journey - whether they'll have to travel around to find clues to a puzzle or have to train an army to defeat big powerful ugly - and by then usually the character has started to form in my subconscious. I know, basically, who needs to complete this quest. At that point my habit had been to just go with it and start writing. It worked out really well for one novel, but the others needed a fair amount of rewriting to get them presentable.

I recently discovered the voice journal and love it. I'll get an idea of the character and start writing about them, from their point of view. (I do this with pen and paper, too - I agree with amandalinehan, some things just work better like that.) They introduce themselves to me, and I write whatever seems to fit. It's shown me a lot about my characters and I get to know them much better. I've even been surprised as I've been writing and something comes out that I didn't exactly intend, but it fits in with the person. It's scary when that happens.

Just a few weeks ago I also learned about the dimensions of character in the book Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. (It's absolutely the most amazing book on craft I've ever read, I cannot tell you how highly I recommend this book!) I laid out the three dimensions for the characters in my current WIP and that has been incredibly helpful to me as well.
Brenda :)

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Re: Character Creation Process

Post by Gypson » February 8th, 2012, 6:18 pm

I don't sit down and design new characters. My characters come to me. They start out as sort of unformed, incessant nagging in my mind, and show up as the story demands them.

The only thing I really decide on in regards to characters are names. Character names are important to me, not so much in meaning but in appearance, connotation, and sound. I spend a long time on names. Once I decide on a name, the character automatically takes physical form. (I'm not sure why my process works this way, but ah well.)

After that, I just write about them. Details of their person and components of their personalities emerge throughout the draft. Their speech styles are usually distinct from the get-go and don't change much during revision. When I rewrite/edit, I change inconsistencies and incorporate depths of the characters throughout the story (the kind of layers and depths that aren't really fleshed out until late in the early draft). Essentially, my characters have strong personalities from the beginning, but with each sequential draft I get better at showing the layers to them and including the details I've learned along the way.

I do fill out character charts/profiles, but only after I've written a few drafts. These profiles are more of a database for detail consistency and timelines than anything else.

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Re: Character Creation Process

Post by CharleeVale » February 8th, 2012, 6:28 pm

Gypson wrote:I don't sit down and design new characters. My characters come to me. They start out as sort of unformed, incessant nagging in my mind, and show up as the story demands them.

The only thing I really decide on in regards to characters are names. Character names are important to me, not so much in meaning but in appearance, connotation, and sound. I spend a long time on names. Once I decide on a name, the character automatically takes physical form. (I'm not sure why my process works this way, but ah well.)

After that, I just write about them. Details of their person and components of their personalities emerge throughout the draft. Their speech styles are usually distinct from the get-go and don't change much during revision. When I rewrite/edit, I change inconsistencies and incorporate depths of the characters throughout the story (the kind of layers and depths that aren't really fleshed out until late in the early draft). Essentially, my characters have strong personalities from the beginning, but with each sequential draft I get better at showing the layers to them and including the details I've learned along the way.

I do fill out character charts/profiles, but only after I've written a few drafts. These profiles are more of a database for detail consistency and timelines than anything else.

This is pretty much me, except for I don't fill out charts.

CV

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Re: Character Creation Process

Post by Falls Apart » February 8th, 2012, 8:16 pm

Generally, I find a photograph online of a person who looks roughly how I pictured the character and shape my idea around that picture. I get really detailed, try to figure out everything I can about the person. I always try to know more about my story and the people in it than I'd ever need to write down.

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Re: Character Creation Process

Post by GingerWrite » February 8th, 2012, 9:48 pm

For me it all depends on the type of story I'm writing. For instance, my first two books were based on a story I'd known for ten years. The characters were already there. I just fleshed them out based on what happened to them. But if I get a Shiny New Idea I might write down a character description for the main character(s) because often I'll get an idea for the plot based on how they act. Most of the time though the just sort of come to me as I'm writing. Makes for some interesting editing later on...
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Re: Character Creation Process

Post by Claudie » February 9th, 2012, 12:07 am

Oh gosh, I know a bazillion ways to develop characters because I never go about it the same way (kind of why I agreed to lead the workshop for Vegas). Sometimes I plan out way ahead and write lots of backstory. Sometimes I pants out the entire character thing as I write. I admit I have an easy time with characters. Must be those years of Roleplaying where, as a player, creating a deep and interesting PC was my main task.

Some things I do when I plan:

- Write a short summary of five important traits of the characters. Add at least one paragraph of nuance to the trait. So if I have someone who's, say, a brawny fighter with limited intellect, the nuance could be that he's a great military tactician. Or someone who's kind and generous and Good can be a jerk to all member of X religion/race/sex.

- Answer a list of questions about the character. Sometimes about his backstory, sometimes random stuff. A lot of these questions I answer from the character's POV, and sometimes from someone else's POV, about the character. It helps flesh out how the given personality of my character interacts with the world.

- Write random stuff in my notebook about the character's past, personality, etc. This is almost like pantsing, except not in the novel. Sometimes in first person. I tend to do this when I have sudden flashes of inspiration.

- Write lists of my character's personality/physical traits, and next to it write actions that demonstrate those traits. This help me sees how I can show who the character is.

I almost never do all of these things. These are methods I've employed to deepen characters, or character exercises I've encountered and found useful. Half the time I wing it, then reread what I wrote and spend some time thinking about who this character is, and why. In turning points of my novels, I will also often write one page of 1st person narration from the important characters POV, just to follow what they think as they make the important decisions. This doesn't go into the actual story. It's just important side-writing.

Anyhow, that's some of what I do. XD I've been known to change my writing process every single time.
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Re: Character Creation Process

Post by AMSchilling » February 9th, 2012, 1:13 am

I'm a total Pantser, but the one thing that's held true for every story I've written is that I see my MC first, in my head, before I have any idea re. the rest of the stuff. The story comes from the person: I plop them down in a random place or scenario and see what they do. They pretty much lead the way on what happens (which is why my novels suffers from being character driven rather than "grab-you-by-the-throat" plot sometimes. Ah, for the days when character driven books were actually a GOOD thing.)

That doesn't mean I know them like an old friend initially--it's more a vague sense of a voice and some basic traits, and some of their angst. They tell me who they are as I go along. I do, however, obsess over their names from that first glimpse of them. Not sure why, but picking the name seems to help define them for me so it's gotta be right.
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Re: Character Creation Process

Post by polymath » February 9th, 2012, 2:53 am

I'm at the beginning of a new narrative's preparation phase. The inciting inspiration is based on an ancient Cornish myth, but the story cannot have fantastical or metaphysical motifs. Nothing paranormal. The reasons are manifold but safe to say audience is one, originality is another, and narrative point of view is a central high-concept premise reason.

So the central character in my view must be superstitious according to a cultural belief system but open to interpretation as deluded. The character I want must also be driven into dramatic complications by the superstition. The character must have an insuperable desire wanting resolution and, of course, insuperable obstacles impeding resolution.

The base of the inspiration began with a setting, that bloomed into a character situated in the setting, that progressed into a dramatic complication caused by the setting, plot, in other words. The idea or theme was kicking around in the background while I wrestled with events, like how the character influenced the setting and the setting influenced the character, and other characters as well, building into a cast of characters.

Now I'm stuck developing the voice, My fisrt instinct was the lyrical voice of fables, once upon a time and happily ever after verse junk. I'm leaning away from that, don't want to call undue attention to the underlying metaphysical premises. Doing so would harm originality. I'm thinking, now that I've expressed the block in words in this post, that the voice could be tortured, blues' sort of woe is me, but that's okay, if it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all. But changing at the major turns from woebegone to forelorn, to bargaining, to acceptance, to delight. That's five, enough for the turns and the process of transformation.

I want the narrative to have a blended happy ending and tragically beautiful ending. There's got be a noble sacrifrice then. So the character resolves the desire but it's a bittersweet resolution.

For reasons related to setting I won't go into, I feel the character has to be a middle adult female, sort of frumpy, destiitute, affable, lonely and socially estranged due to trust and abandonment issues caused by childhood emotional neglect. She's a dysfunctional caretaker who alienates by her overbearing belief in black and white traditional social proprieties. In simple, she's aspiring to a normative modern gentry status but ill equipped to negotiate that outcome. The story then is about her epiphany that it's her doing one way or another, not others' faults that makes or breaks her.

So from all that I have a character name, a personality, a credible and predictable set of behaviors and traits, and a full blown plan sketch. The block at this time is how to boil all that down into high-concept premises so that the subtext is accessible for readers.

So into rhetoric realms I delve: metaphor, imagery, sensory stimuli, symbolism, tropes and such. And theme and moral and message. Thus method.

What are the character's hot button triggers? The moments of quiet self-satisfaction disturbed by forces beyond her ken? How are her sensibilties revealed as flawed nobility? How does she play out as a fully fleshed out character? What makes her empathetically accessible? The answers are in my questions. It's what she wants that she doesn't really appreciate is truly what she wants that she comes at by circular trial and error that makes the narrative.

I want a highly tactile sensory experience, so she doesn't see well. She has all her other faculties in fair working order. Oh! She's a gardener, a landscaping professional struggling to meet ends. She does gardening around her small run down apartment building on her own initiative as cartharsis, as a hobby. No one appreciates what she does, though that's all she wants, some approval, some gratitude, someone to recognize her as a warm human being. However, she's self-serving in her selflessness and alienates people on first impressions. She must learn to caregive, to listen rather than impose, rather than caretake. That's where I'm stuck, gettimg that in through concrete, accessible meanings. Something more literal than figurative, I'd say.

Anyway, that's a summary of my character creation process from setting, though other times I might start off at character to access setting, or start at plot, or idea, or event, or voice to access character.
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Re: Character Creation Process

Post by Claudie » February 9th, 2012, 11:16 am

AMSchilling wrote:I'm a total Pantser, but the one thing that's held true for every story I've written is that I see my MC first, in my head, before I have any idea re. the rest of the stuff. The story comes from the person: I plop them down in a random place or scenario and see what they do. They pretty much lead the way on what happens (which is why my novels suffers from being character driven rather than "grab-you-by-the-throat" plot sometimes. Ah, for the days when character driven books were actually a GOOD thing.)
Hey, don't get discouraged. Characters-driven books and grab-you-by-the-throat aren't mutually exclusive. Heck, I think it's quite the contrary. The better your character, the more whatever happens to it, whether it's hard changes in his life or epic save-the-world scale story archs, will be interesting.

Also, you work exactly like my favourite teacher. He's a "find your character and let him lead your through the story" type of guy.
"I do not think there is any thrill [...] like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success... Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything." -- Nikola Tesla

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Re: Character Creation Process

Post by dios4vida » February 9th, 2012, 11:33 am

Claudie wrote:Oh gosh, I know a bazillion ways to develop characters because I never go about it the same way (kind of why I agreed to lead the workshop for Vegas).
I can't wait to hear what you've got planned for us!! <mimics Jedi behavior> Teach me your wisdom, oh Master!
Brenda :)

Inspiration isn't about the muse. Inspiration is working until something clicks. ~Brandon Sanderson

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Re: Character Creation Process

Post by AMSchilling » February 10th, 2012, 12:52 am

Thanks, Claudie! I'm still trying to figure out the balance between the two is all--my last book I was told that the characters were great but I didn't torture them enough by more than one agent. I'm thinking of having "kill your darlings" tattooed somewhere so I don't forget. :D

And it's good to know I'm not the only one who just drops their MCs into a proverbial snake pit and then writes down what happens. It's kind of fun and it works for me. When I tried to force them to do what I wanted, they just up and revolted.
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Re: Character Creation Process

Post by amandalinehan » February 11th, 2012, 1:04 pm

dios4vida wrote:I recently discovered the voice journal and love it. I'll get an idea of the character and start writing about them, from their point of view. (I do this with pen and paper, too - I agree with amandalinehan, some things just work better like that.)
I also will work out my general plot arc with pen/paper, but those are the only two things that I don't do on the computer. Maybe having something tangible in my hands inspires this process, or something. I don't know. ;) Is there anything else you do with pen/paper?

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