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I use lots of things--but my favorite is probably the character interview. It's just a lot of questions from, "Height?" to, "Killed anyone?" to, "TACOS?" And, as opposed to a character profile, the character himself (or herself) answers the questions. Some of them get really crazy. :-)
Most of my characters develop themselves along the story line, I feel that I'm not the one who made the story, I am only the person telling it. When I'm writing a new piece my characters are alive to me, they are living and breathing in their own ficticious world with their own thoughts and emotions. Ray Bradbury once said "find out what your hero/heroine wants, and when he or she wakes up in the morning follow him or her all day."
That is what I do. I let them take on lives all of their own, entirely independent of me. Sometimes they leave me for a time and I have to stop writing until they return (writer's block) but they all do eventually return at their own time.
Lately I've been writing little mini stories based on everything my characters are meant to do in the novel. So far I've found a lot about my characters and I don't know if I would have found this stuff out if I hadn't.
I have a hard time interviewing my characters. My characters and I just live in different realities. Or maybe I need my charcters to believe that they're not in a fictional universe. I'm not sure what it is, but I'm never able to talk to my characters myself. They'll talk to eachother and, even, perplexingly, other fictional characters (from other authors' works). It's confusing.
I do something similar to that, writing little mini stories, or even just one or two page scenes, here and there, to figure out how my characters would react in particular situations. That helps me when I go back and place them in the story. Also - many of my characters take on characteristics of people I know, so sometimes to help, I will imagine what that person I know in real life would say or do in a given situation, I use that to help me with the character I am developing. Not to be confused with creating a duplicate of someone you know into your story (not that I haven't also done that), but just using certain characteristics of someone you are familiar with that relate to the character in the story.
I start with quirks and build from there. Since most if not all interesting characters have a quirk or two it seemed to be the easiest way for me to start. Once I've decided on quirks I move onto character reactions: I write out a bunch of situations and then write how my character would react to each of them. Then I go into the profile: name,age,height,hair color,eye color,birth rank,place of birth, current location,family,relationships, work......ect.
Most of the time I get a lot better idea of how the profile should look after I come up with the quirks and reactions.
My characters go through a personality profile. It helps me define how they will make decisions, they still surprise me. I also do a written sit down interview with a psychologist (me). It forces them to open up even if not all the details make it into the story I understand them better.
I've tried the character profile and gotten some use out of it, but for me the single most important act is first finding just the right name -- the name almost always means whatever that character's essential trait is. It also gives me a read on what kind of culture the character comes from -- the language he/she speaks, how the name was given to him/her, whether other people use any nicknames or titles, all sorts of information that helps me build the world.
After that, I do a lot of brainstorming on whatever scratch paper finds my pen about how my various characters feel about each other, because I think the single greatest mistake a lot of authors make is having their characters exist in a sort of vacuum -- if you think about yourself, you know and have some kind of feeling for dozens (maybe hundreds) of people, but you rarely see a novel where the characters have relationships with more than 3-5 people at a time.
And once I have down who likes whom, who holds what grudges, who is feeling unsatisfied with their life and who is feeling far too self-satisfied, I find a logical place for the action to begin and start writing. :)
Here's the character exercise that I use:
Step One: Answer all questions, quickly and detailed. If you don't know an answer, make it up! Put down the first thing that comes into your head, but don't leave any questions blank.
Central Relationships (Two most important people in life):
Favorite place to be:
What possessions would be rescued from a fire:
Taste in music:
Taste in books:
What's on top of his/her dresser:
What's in his/her jacket pocket:
Step Two: Review your answers. Circle the things that surprise you. Identify the most surprising detail. Freewrite on that point for five to ten minutes, add concrete details, expand it. Tell everything you know about it. If it surprised you, you don't know the story, not until you write it own. Freewrite with abandon. Follow the story and don't worry if it doesn't make an sense. Focus on details.
Step Three: Review what you've just written. What is most surprising or interesting to you? Freewrite gain, five to ten minutes.
Step Four: Repeat the previous step. Continue doing this until you run out of things that surprise or interest you.
Consider all this information together. If you are surprising yourself and uncovering interesting material, chances are good that this will also be surprising and interesting to a reader. Even if the information you find here never makes it into a story, it adds depth to the character as you write.
I did an interview with one of my characters, it was quite fun but I uasually start out by drawing my character. Then I give them a name and start to make a very detailed profile. As most of my stories are fantasy my template is aranged so.
Personality: (basics, cultural traits, ect.)
Clothes/Accessories: (basic style or actual articles)
Likes: (other characters, items/possessions, favorite types of things: colors, smells, places)
Jeanie - I started my creative life as an illustrator, so I often draw my characters, too. Drawing them and finding their voice gives me enough to go on, usually. And then when I write it's all discovery and excitement as I get to know them better. I don't like being too sure of things before I start - for me, the act of dicovery whilst writing is the best part. I don't know that I would particularly trust my characters to tell me the truth if I interviewed them. :)
Caviglia: That's awesome. I've drawn some of my characters, but more often than not, it just leads to frustration because the picture in my mind is hard to get out on paper--for me, because I'm not a great artist in that way. I do more with words. But as to characters telling the truth--that's part of the fun of the interview for me, because if it's the author answering the questions FOR the character, you get the answers, but not as much of the personalities. If you actually ask the character, not only will you get (or not get) the answer, but you'll see HOW he or she answers it. I read mine over every time I need a writing pick-me-up. They're a hoot.
my characters usually develop themselves in the story. but sometimes when i can't get the character quite right. or when i think the character needs a little more depth and an interesting background story, i'll develop something like this:
Name: Name has black hair and brown eyes. though she's shy , she quick temper usually gets her in trouble. as it has one many occansions. her name has a story behind it that no one knows. an no one will know.
even when i do that and have a background story ready, the writing just sort of flows from me. like i'm just being the medium in something bigger.
has anyone else ever thought that was happening to them?
sometimes when i can't think of a name for one of my characters, i go to this site
it give you a name and a other information like phoine numbers jobs and stuff. at times when i want to add a character but i can't think of what to name them or anything else, i go on there and get a name and a few other things.
Last Edited on: 9/9/09 8:16 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
I start with a general overview of the character (height, weight, parents, birth order, traumas, so on).
I don't like to delve too deeply into them because as the story progresses the characters do as well, so everything I would have developed might then be rendered completely inane -- however, I do like to get a good enough grip on their background to dictiate how they would react in a certain situation, or create a situation that wouldn't have happened if they weren't a certain way.
As an amature artist and writer I love to draw or doodle out a character and if I like it, then I'll start with a very basic character sheet like this :
I generally start with the basics: name, species, general apperance, and similar things. Then well the ylive in my head a little while. It's really fun and yes sometimes you end up arguing with youreslf out loud but ot's fun to do it with different characters from different stories ;)
I draw my characters, which helps because then I can picture them just walking around, etc, in my mind.
Oftentimes I'll do what others suggested, filling the thing that looks like an application with name, age, height, habits, etc.
Also, when I'm lying in bed at night, right before I go to sleep, often the characters will take over ;D They'll either just sit down and tell me something that may seem insignificant [and sometimes is] or they'll interact with another character, or they'll just be doing everyday stuff. Whatever it is, it always helps.
Writing out little dialogues helps too.
I do a general physical description/occupation/family etc then I write down tons of backstory, stuff I won't include in the MS but that will give me a general idea of why this person is the way he/she is. Very helpful and a lot of times it helps me find good stuff to include in the story, gives me some twist tha I might not have thought about before.
I really enjoyed reading some of the posts here on how each of you develop your characters. I typically do not have a lot of problems identifying my characters personalities and such. My dilemna = NAMING THEM! Any tips on finding the perfect names?
This was really interesting to read. I've just started writing and developing my characters has been difficult. I love to draw and can't believe I never thought to draw them out. Thanks!