Friday, May 13, 2011

Creating Characters: The Sequel

Well, since has apparently been having some issues, and my last post from the other day is playing hide-and-seek, I'm just going to try again. If it winds up as a duplicate, well, I'm sorry.

My original topic of the last post was Creating Characters. I know there are quite a few methods that works for different people. It seems that no one uses the exact same method, some use combinations, and some jump back and forth. I think the main thing is that for some stories, they practically write themselves. Others require a lot of effort. So I want to take a look at some of the ways to bring characters to life.

So you just had a revelation! You watched a movie, read a book, had a dream, or were just sitting in traffic when BAM! Your next idea has hit you. You can already see a synopsis spinning out from the wonderful idea you just had. It quickly turns into a plot, and there are some great events you have planned for it. Faceless, shadowy characters run around doing your every bidding. Great: part one accomplished. You have a plot. Now... you need characters.

Several people I've spoken with liken the process of character development to raising a child: they have their own temperaments which evolve on their own, and will often fight back if you try to derail their progress. Others find it a slow evolution, where each point is painstakingly researched before the whole thing comes together. Here are some great methods I've picked up.

Some people start with a name, and they create the character around that. Take a name like Whitney, and she's going to be a doctor. A pharmacist. Go.

Other people start with the defining characteristics. Say your character is going to be doing some serious soul-searching on the road to discovering the murderer of his/her partner. Well, they're probably tormented, driven, brooding, determined, and oh, he/she has a fear of intimacy now because of the tragedy. I see... tall, dark-haired, green eyes, maybe a Morgan. Voila, a starting point.

Still others start with a picture. Do a random search on line for pictures, and sometimes one will jump out at you. "Yes! That's who my character is!" I have recently starting doing that as a helper: in some cases, when I'm having trouble getting a clear visual on my character, if I have a real picture to work with, it also helps remind me later on so I don't get details confused. Quite often, and too frequently, I can't find one picture that embodies all my character's physical appearance, so I find several pictures that each contain an element of what I need.

Like this.

One method of development described in a book I read, is to create a profile for each of your characters. Through this, you keep a record of their height, weight, physical characteristics, personality traits, hates and loves, their history. It is a very detailed thing, but very helpful if you have some intense characters. It is also very helpful at times is you are dealing with a lot of characters; it's so easy to get lost in the crowd, that by having the references at hand you don't make the mistake of confusing Mary's love of baking with Sammy's hatred of pies. Or whatever.

I have used this method, and it really helped me out. I used it for finishing up "What Might Have Been." I was dealing with both Original Characters and Real Life Characters. I was pretty firm on the historical basis of the RLCs, but it was really good to have their charts handy, as well as the personality quirks that assisted in the storyline. For my OCs, it was really helpful so that I was able to remember what made them tick.

This, however, can be a lot of work, and some people don't do it. Many people just Write Characters On the Go. Nothing wrong with that; I do that too. Sometimes you have a vague idea of what you want your character to be, but you can't quite get the feel of them until you are writing them. Often the character will reveal him/herself to you through the dialogue, and then you're on a roll. You get the feel for how they talk, they reveal their appearance and personality.

I use this quite frequently. Many times I am not sure how the character is going to be; only when I throw them into the situation do I get to see how they react, and that gives me a way to deal with them. The only downside to this is when your characters shut up and won't work with you, you fall into a stalemate. Two words: Cock Block.

Of course, if you're just not feeling your characters, then it's possible they're just not coming together right. Look at how they are so far. If they are acting contrary to what you think they should be, then you may consider one of two things: 1) Change the way you're imagining them. If their actions are actually helping your plot, then look at reimagining them the way they are trying to come out. 2) If nothing helps, if they don't feel right and nothing is fitting, consider scrapping them and getting some new ones in. Or, you may also have to look at your plot, and see what's not working. But that's another story.

There is no right or wrong way to develop your characters. Find a method that works for you. Hell, I've known one or two people to use the RPG format: roll some dice, consult a handbook to give your character some traits, and BOOM! Instant character. That's the basis for Dungeons and Dragons, Vampire: the Masquerade, and every other role playing system. You create characters, and then play them. It is very simple, and sometimes you find you want to do more with them. Like give them a real story.

Look at that: everything you could want to know about your character. Consult your local gaming store for advice. Everybody has one. You know you do. That's right, you.

So, there you are. Some great ways to help create your characters. I love the process because it's awesome to step into someone else's shoes. It can be a huge challenge, though, if you step outside your comfort zone. Writing about things you are not inherently familiar with, or careers you're not familiar with, definitely require some research and a heart-to-heart.

Creating characters can be a great way to explore aspects of your own personality: things you are comfortable with and want to inject into the character; things you are not comfortable with and want to address, and things that are so taboo that you can only process them by writing about them. After all, each character tends to be a little extension of you and your thought processes.

Think about that.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Creating Characters

Hello, all!

I'm loving the fact that here in Arizona we're still enjoying the last few days of nice weather before the Heat hits. Seriously, we've had the whole apartment opened up and letting in a glorious cross breeze without any air conditioning. It's wonderful, and I'm also mourning its impending doom.

It's May! Which means... so many things. Phoenix Comic-Con is on this month which, for a certified nerd like me, it's the best time of the year. Last year was my first time; now I want to dive in and indulge.

Today I want to talk about creating characters.

How many times do you get suddenly struck with inspiration for a storyline... through a dream, a plot point in a movie/book/TV show that gives you an idea, something someone says, etc. It can happen any way, any time. You're intrigued! You're excited! There's a great story waiting to happen! But what do you need first?


Oh, the characters. They can be your best friends, your worst enemies, and independent voices that won't listen to you. Like children. Only you can't discipline them.

Once you have your plot, you already have a sense of shadowy figures who will be carrying out your story. Sometimes as soon as you think of it, you can almost see them. But for most of us, like me, it takes a lot of time and development with them. Many times they evolve just as you are writing, no planning needed. Other times it helps to sit down, list out who is in the story, and then give them profiles and histories.

I have done both methods. With "What Might Have Been," as it has actual historical characters in it, I was able to write down some of their more notable aspects and work with that. Obviously I'll never know if I matched their genuine personalities, but the way I wrote them felt honest and workable. With my OCs (original characters), I did the same: I wrote them profiles and histories. It helped a lot. Through that, I was able to keep my facts straight (age, hair color, eye color, preferences, etc.). I don't know about you, but when I go to town writing, sometimes I forget the little details. So if it's written down in one spot, I can just take a quick peek and move on.

Those are great, if you're inclined to take a lot of time to really get to know your characters. It is definitely an individual preference, however. A lot of writers I've spoken with merely learn about their characters as they write them. They have no formal outline or profile to look at; their ideas simply flow and they learn through trial and error how each character is formed.

I have tried both ways. I can say this: I like profiles because that helps me flesh out little details and keep track of them easily. Somehow that feels more real. It is also very helpful if you are writing a very in-depth novel; the more characters you have to deal with, the more chance you have to be disorganized.

I have also tried writing on the fly. This is what I tend to do with the novels that are not as in depth. It is also a great plan for simply writing. It is true: when you just say "GO" and write, the characters do speak for you, you don't have to think about it. And then there are times when they shut up and won't cooperate with anything you try.

My favorite part of creating characters is mixing attributes from people I know or from myself along with new flaws or strengths. For instance: I'm starting a new story that involves writing from the POV of a serial killer. Not only is this a TOTAL departure from anything I've ever tried to write, but it's from a mindset I know nothing about. For this character, I am doing a lot of brain work, trying to see into the character's mind, the thought processes, and I'll be honest, it's a little disturbing.

That's one of the great things about writing, though: being able to walk through the minds of people you have never met or known, and give them life. Taking this character again, she begins as normal as everyone else, and the journey she embarks on is not only a physical journey but psychological as well. I think it's going to be really fascinating to see where it goes.

Another of my favorite things regarding the creation of characters: we have the ability to take incredible journeys with them. I find that my characters must be relatable. If the character is too perfect, it's intimidating and unlikeable, and I find myself hating the character. On the other hand, if the character is too flawed, I don't like them very much either. Still, I prefer the overly flawed character to the too-perfect one.

Recently I've begun checking out the internet for pictures. I find that on occasion it helps to have a visual reference for characters' features. Often I find several pictures that have the features I'm looking for. It's not always necessary, but it can come in handy, especially to keep you going sometimes.

In conclusion, I love making my characters. I think it's a great experience, especially when they fight you on some of your decisions. I think that's the moment you know that you have created a fully viable character.

Have a good one!