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!

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