Thursday, February 3, 2011

Character 101 - Basic building

Finally back from my slumber with more posting about everyone's favorite subject - Writing. And my favorite writing related subject - Characters.
There have been many words spent on how people create and develop characters. And, surprise, surprise, I deal with it too. There might be literature without characters, but I don't remember reading any, at least recently (might have in school).
So, how do you do it? Does the character come first and then the story or does the story create the character? I can only give you my thoughts - tell you how I do it.

1. The chicken or the egg?
What came first? The character or the story around him/her?
Well, in my case...both. The first characters I created didn't have a story. I mean, sure, they had a background and traits and physical existence - but there was no plot, no path for them to follow. So, I gave them one. I built a world and a story just for them. Of course, what they go through builds and changes them and the normal "writing" process takes its course.
For my next stories, I had the plot in mind. So I created characters to fit the action. For me, it works both ways. But...

2. How do I do it?
Everyone must have a method for spawning imaginary people/creatures. Mine goes a little something like this: physical traits, name, personality, evolution, result.

a. Physical appearance.

Oh, I'm pretty cheap with this. I'll only give you hair and eye color, height (as in tall or short - if I don't mention it, it's normal height), general built (skinny, fat, athletic, average) and other character's thoughts about them to show how others perceive them.
On hair and eye color, I'm usually prolific: my characters are blond, brunette, redheads and even have two MCs with orange hair(as is Publish Post button orange). Also, the hair texture is different: straight, curly, wavy - I don't really have girls with short hair - I usually give them long hair.
Also, my male MCs tend to have jet black hair. Not sure why.
Examples of how I do it:

Example 1: His broad, well-built frame was so still, he could’ve been a statue
Critter comment: what makes him well built? This is subjective, because to susie homemaker, this could mean a pale thin dude, while to frisky misty this couild mean muscular shoulders, thick neck, and biceps that look like a python that just swallowed a softball.

My point exactly - I give one trait and, depending on who you are, you imagine the character in a certain way. I don't want to influence the reader's perception - they should imagine the character the way they want to, using the few guidelines I give. This way, the reader creates part of the character themselves, and tend to be more attached to them. At least that's what I'm going for.
Also, the python thing is a trademark of my great critter. *smiley face*

Example 2:
“Sam, this is my friend Christine. Christine, this is Sam.” She pointed from on to the other. “Boyfriend material.” She winked at Christine. “Didn’t I tell you? Gorgeous green eyes. Tall, well built, athletic, extremely handsome. Not to mention he’s a genius and very sweet.”
Sam stared from Gorgeous Girl…Christine, to Lisa. “What are you doing?”
“Showing you off. I’ve been yearning to rub you in Christine’s face forever.”

This is how other characters see the character. So the reader could take Lisa's word for it, or not. It's up to them to create the image.

b. Name

How do you name characters? I first imagine how they look inside my head and then go over all the names that come to mind until I find one that seems to fit with who I want this character to be and what they look like. I tend to go for simple, easy to read names, for one simple reason. I don't bother reading complicated names. I tend to take a mental photo of how they look on the page and recognize them when I come across them. I guess this makes me a lazy reader. But, honestly, I didn't bother to care how to pronounce Hermione's name until book 4 taught me how to ;)
So, I write characters for other lazy readers, such as myself.
I do come up with the average cookie name (ignore nicknames which can verge on the retarded). Examples of my most "original" names: Freider, Mizrelle, Skye and Truby. I know, I should have my mind checked.
After I finally settle on a first name that I like, I roll around last names until I find the one that fits with the first name. I don't claim to be very good at those. I usually go for over simplistic names.
I give my characters middle names if they're relevant - I do have a few with middle names. I use the same procedure as for all the other names a pick.

c. Personality

Okay, so I have a face and a name. Why did I create this character? I want him to be the MC, so let's fill him up with flaws he/she will be able to correct by the end of their adventure. They do have their good sides - check above example. 
I tend to make my characters smart and play a lot on their logic sides. I like drawing up characters that don't seem all that bright at first, but then come up with an ingenious ideas. Because  not all people want to be smartasses.
I also start off with one basic trait and evolve around that to create a full personality. Also, give them a significant event in their past that tends to hold them back - and I'm not talking major drama - something very small could do the trick - like a fight between their parents who are now a happy couple. Stuff like that. Give them something to overcome and grow.

d. Evolution

Most important when developing a character, I think. Where are they and where will they go from there? How will they grow? What will they overcome? And, especially, how will it influence their personality.
Whenever I write, I usually go for smooth transitions - my characters don't tend to spin 180 in a matter of days. They might find some hidden courage or finally do something they were trying no to.
I do have a character turn planned for a future book - I think it's going to be tough one, and I'll have to plan it through really well. Stuff like this is easy to mess up. And I want to keep it realistic.

e. Result

So, the book is over. Where is the character now? Are they still at the starting point? Well, there's obviously something wrong with that picture then. The reader usually has expectations from the character (I personally do - I even tend to start screaming at them if they're not moving in the direction I want them to). If they're not fulfilled, they might be disappointed. And no writer wants to leave a reader disappointed.
When I submitted the last chapter of my novel for critique, I asked my readers if they thought the characters had evolved - fortunately for me, they all said yes. And also mentioned that they were less annoying now. Which I took as a good sign.

3. I have my character. Now what?

Congratulations! You've just created a real live person - well, kinda. Give it some trials, a significant other, an arch enemy and some traitorous allies while your at it. At least that's what I do in all my books so far. Not that I wrote many.

So, how do you do it? Share your thoughts and point out my shortcoming. I always enjoy that. 


  1. I love reading how other people develop things. Thanks for sharing! I'm not nearly so organized. They mostly evolve in my head :)

    Like your playlist too!

  2. Hi Mysti!
    Lol, yeah, I'm organized now. But when I started out, it was all a mess inside my head and I surprised even myself with what came out - I still do.
    It took a lot of inner thinking to realize that I used this method for all my characters, without actually wanting to.

  3. You are organized - good for you! Physical descriptions are the hardest for me. In my mind, I see the characters' reflections in a steamy bathroom, and I have to keep wiping the moisture off the mirror to really see them.

    I always worry if my characters have evolved enough by the end, but no one has called me out on this. Yet.

  4. Oh, I don't see them fully inside my head either - it's like a broad image and certain details from certain angles. But I have to try really hard to imagine how all the traits fit together.
    But don't worry, Lindsey, we'll see our characters properly when they'll make a blockbuster film out of our books ;)

  5. I'm guilty of celebrity hunting to come up with my character descriptions. I have files on my computer with a celebrity picture and then notes like "this is Lysander." Needless to say, when my books eventually become blockbuster movies (delusions of grandeur much?) I'll have my cast of characters picked out. =p

  6. Lol, I'm kinda guilty of that too, though only when it comes to the girls - I can't ever find guys that look the way I imagine my characters.
    Neah, it's not a delusion of grandeur *cough, twilight, cough*. We will have blockbuster movies after our books. ;)

  7. Yes we will!! (Staying Positive)

  8. I think my characters start out somewhat flat, but by the end of the story I have a much better feel for how their personality works. The plan is to work those details back into them on the rewrite.

    As for physical appearance, I have no idea what they look like, :^(


  9. Hey Steph! :D I like this post a lot. I guess I don't remember Lisa saying that to Christine :P

    I always have trouble either giving characters too much description or too little :( In one of my first stories, I had a cursed mirror scene! Gasp! lol, but I think I've swerved too far away from description. Ah well. :)

    Good post!


  10. Hi J, thanks for the input :) If I ever start cirtting your work I'll so nag you about characters. You have been warned!

    @Anna: Lol, yeah, I've rewritten the first four chapters completely - currently working on the sixth (gotta get that novel under 100k if I can). I made Lisa come off much nicer :)
    Lol - yeah I had a mirror scene too, if you remember. Cut it out. Have a mirror scene in Hunters. No one yelled at me for it, so I might not cut it out O:-)
    I personally think you're doing fine with the description. I don't have trouble imagining your characters.


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