Monday, January 14, 2013

Character Study

I always wonder if I ever truly develop my characters. I mean, as much as they should be developed.

Oh sure, I give them names, some motivations, some quirks and traits, but do I really develop them? Is it something that should be asked the journalistic questions of who, what, when, where, and why?

  • Who was their high school sweetheart?
  • What was the best day of their life?
  • When did they develop "X" trait?
  • Where do they want to retire to?
  • Why are they fascinated by ankles?

Up to this point, I've always tried guess you'd call it, approach. As the story developed, so did the character. They've been more reactive then set in stone. I know that a good character can drive the story or, for that matter, make you not really care so much about the story as you do the character's journey. All points to ponder.

Maybe I should come up with a checklist, of sorts, to help answer some of the "basics" of just who these characters are?

I forget which RPG (that stands for Role Playing Game...for the uninitiated) it was, I think it was "Traveller", but they had something called a "life path" where you would roll and the dice would tell you what happened at different points in the character's life. I always thought it was a royal pain, at least in terms of making a role playing character, but something like that would really be useful for coming up with story characters if you didn't feel like putting a lot of work into it.

Is something like this a "cheat" or a "tool" and does it really matter if the outcome is well rounded character?

What are some of your methods for fleshing out characters?


Marsha Sigman said...

I don't think that would be a cheat at all, whatever it takes to make the character come to life. I usually don't do a character study until about midway through a story but I think the most important thing is to know what they want from the very beginning.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

If it helps, use it.
I always create a backstory and select strengths and weaknesses for my characters. I do most of the planning before I ever come up with the storyline.

Morgan said...

YES. <----This is me totally getting this post. Mark, I feel the same way. And I feel like this is what I'm lacking in my writing. That I'm not digging DEEP enough. I'm trying, but it's HARD.

Mark Means said...

Marsha/Alex-- I was, basically, thinking the same thing. I think I'd be more satisfied just coming up with things on my own, but a tool like that might be good for a 'nudge' in the right direction.

Morgan-- I'm glad I'm not the Lone Ranger when it comes to this stuff, thanks! And, you're right, it is hard...which is why we have to keep at it to make it...less...hard :)

Anonymous said...

I have a huge questionnaire that I fill out on my main characters and smaller version for minor characters. I have to get inside of their heads or else they all begin to sound like me and that's not good.

Mark Means said...

Great idea, Sydney, and I know what you mean. In my WIP, there was a point where everyone sounded the same and I was having trouble remembering just who was supposed to be talking :)

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