Monday, June 08, 2009

Getting to Know You

Question of the day: I'd be interested to know the type of 'relationship' you develop with a character before weaving them into a story. I have read about authors literally becoming obsessed with a character. To be honest, as far as I'm concerned, my characters are really just the tools allowing me to do the job - and while I feel a growing interest in them, I haven't felt the need to list their likes/dislikes/food allergies in any level of detail. Should this too be something that develops organically during the writing rather than the planning process - or am I missing a trick here?

This is a very good question, not least because I'm still learning A LOT about character development. I recently read a book, Hyatt Bass's, The Embers, which I'll discuss more once it hits bookstores in two weeks, that had the most in-depth, fleshed out characters I think I might have ever read. I mean, I was reading it, and I was so just impressed because truly, I don't know that I'm capable of going that deep. Well, maybe that's not fair; maybe I'm entirely capable, but I'll be frank in saying that I felt like her analysis of her characters blew mine out of the water.

But. To be honest, I guess maybe I'm okay with that. :) At least for the books I've written thus far. I finished her book and thought, "Wow, someday I'd like to write like that," but for now, what I've done with my characters has really worked for my writing process and for my books. My process is this: I primarily start with an emotional connection with these characters, which maybe sounds a little pretentious if you haven't written fiction before, but
for me, at least is the most important ingredient in my writing. I've stopped and started several manuscripts because I just didn't GET these characters, and when I don't GET them, I can't figure out all of their other little choices: their likes/dislikes/food allergies, etc. :)

So I start there. Once I'm inside their brains - and to be honest, one of the reasons the first part of book #3 took so long was that I really had to wrench myself into my protagonist much more so than in my other books - the rest of it falls into place when I'm writing. Maybe my characters could stand for some deeper probing, I'm not saying they couldn't. Again, I was truly so in awe of the Bass's character development. But for me, I sort of just connect with them, understand who they are, and then inform their choices as I go.

But as I said, I'm still learning a lot of about this - so how do you guys deal with character development? Anyone have a handy habit chart that you want to share?


Heidi said...

Though I'm not a published author, I've been writing for quite a long time. Many times I find myself getting inside my character's minds by asking questions about them. Where are they from? What was it like for them to grow up? Why did they choose the profession they currently have?

The other way that I figure out my characters is to put them in stressful situations in order to determine how they react. For example, I have an elven mage who was in the middle of doing research on an addiction problem that her people suffer from. While doing said research she chose to experiment on herself and in the process lost her ability to use magic. Her initial reaction was fear and helplessness; she'd never NOT been able to do magic except when she was a tiny child. Then she slowly came around to accepting it and began working to find a way to reverse it.

That was a long explanation, but I hope it gets my point across. Of course, that's just how -I- work with my characters. I'm looking forward to more comments because I'd love to see how others do it.

Meg Spencer said...

The novel I'm working on right now has six major characters. For a couple of them I had a solid idea of them when I started writing, and they grew as I went. No need for a whole bunch of background outlining and stuff.

However when I read through my rough draft I realized that two of my characters were very weakly fleshed out - one was little more than an author surrogate. With them I sat down and created page after page of outlines, personality diagrams, character sheets, the works! Now I'm rewriting and I'm much happier with the results.

So I guess it really depends. One thing is for sure though - I definitely become obsessed with these characters, to the point where I'll be going about my day and thinking "how would he react to this? how about her?" said...

In the novel I'm currently writing, I've learned about the main character by watching how she interacts with her environment and with others. This interaction brings out her traits bit by bit and occasionally reveals backstory as well.

BTW, Allison, have you come up with the new title for your novel yet?

Amie Stuart said...

For the most part, it's all pretty organic. I don't spend tons of time filling out forms and such, but I do (inevitably) end up having to go back and tweak as I learn new stuff about my characters. :D

That said, in the current wip I ended up scrapping the heroin and starting over. To find a new one, I wrote a personal ad from my hero's pov :D (it was actually a pretty fun exercise and got some laughs from writer-friends)

Nadia Damon said...

Thanks guys - great tips as usual!

I have found myself becoming a lot more interested in my "new and improved" heroine & co as the story develops, so I personally think that for me the method of gleaning details about them from the conflicts/dilemmas has worked quite well.

I'm now two-thirds through my first MS - and have plotted everything out in detail. I'm looking forward to seeing how these characters handle what I'm about to throw at them!!!

Best regs, Nadia

ImNotBad said...

I started the first part to a novel series last year. I had a story, I had five characters and NO idea on how to get the ball rolling.

I came up with the idea to base the five characters on the five senses (so one character would be a loudmouth, another would be very girly and wear lots of perfume, etc.) To go further I then added in one of the seven deadly sins to each (The perfumed girly one would be very prideful and the loudmouth gets angry a lot) I wrote a little synopsis for each in an encyclopedia style, intertwined their stories, and was able to flesh them out, give personality traits and so on just using the senses and sins as a jumping off place.

I ended up with some 40 characters that way. Then I took parts of the encyclopedia, put them in chronological order and had my story. It allowed me to build upon the individuals, connect each story further and also go back as reference and see which character may react or cause a certain situation due to their personality.

Unknown said...

Allison, you need not be intimidated by the talent of published authors toward character development,because I am sure you have characters developed from people you know which are unique.

While your honesty is appreciated, be reminded that we will be equally impressed by characters you develop based on outstanding characterisitcs of people you know.

Good luck, Allison. I am looking forward to reading your good work.