This time around, we Quills take on the questions: Do we plan our characters in advance? Or in the moment? And how do we keep track of them all, anyway?
First up, is P.S. Broaddus, author of A Hero's Curse. Here’s what Parker has to say . . .
Characters are great fun. Don't we all have our favorites? Maybe we love their wit, or clueless misadventures--I'm looking at you Bertie Wooster. Sometimes it's a character we relate to: I'm fond of Monk, the tightly wound, obsessive-compulsive detective.
Many of my stories are character driven--which means I'm constantly surrounded by . . . you guessed it . . . characters.
So the question comes up regarding how these personalities come to life. Do I plan them in advance? Do they spring into being in the moment? How do I keep track of them?
Take Essie Brightsday, a young blind girl and the protagonist of A Hero's Curse. How did she get here?
Read more here.
Find Parker's site here.
Thank you, Parker! (I, too, am a BIG Monk fan!)
Now, lets see what Robin Lythgoe, author of As the Crow Flies, has for us this time around . . .
The answers are… Yes. And it depends! (Oops, my questionable sense of humor is showing!)
I tend to flesh out a few key characters briefly, but they grow from that organically. Every now and then random characters stroll into the story uninvited. I am not a fan of those “Get to Know Your Character” worksheets with a bazillion trivial questions, but I occasionally find them helpful when a necessary character refuses to take shape.
I do not have a shortage of inspiration. There are just so many interesting real people and characters from stories and movies from which I can pick little details! For example…
Read more here.
Finally, here are my thoughts . . .
Oh, the fun of writing! When it comes to character creation: there are no rules! Sometimes, a character comes to mind, nearly fully formed. This might happen in particular, for those key parties who engage in the most important activities in a story. But even then, they can surprise me. The character may turn out to be an unexpected whiner, or to have an unusual sense of humor, or to manage success in the face of unexpected odds. Those things tend to happen quite by chance! For example, I have one minor character in my first story who I realized near the end, almost never said anything, although he was present for a goodly portion of the tale. Rather than go back and put words in his mouth, I made that characteristic something about him that others recognized. By the time the third book of the series came around, one of the main protagonists refers to him as “Samuel the Silent,” sharing her “secret childhood moniker” for him. It wasn’t something I planned—it just . . . happened.
Occasionally, I create a character around someone from real life. In truth, that usually happens when I have something to say that might not be so nice to say . . . Oh, the fun of getting to speak my mind through the pages of my fantasy adventures!
With all that, most characters are not quite so central to a story. Often the real fun here is in introducing someone whose presence the story requires, and then waiting to see what he or she does. From time to time, a party will so surprise me, that I have to give him or her a much more important role than I’d originally intended.
All this is to say that for the most part, for me, characters develop as the story progresses. But even then, there are no hard and fast rules . . .
As to keeping track of characters, that’s another matter altogether. Whether I’m writing in a “word” program, or with Scrivener, I keep a constant record of any new character when I introduce the person. If I share physical characteristics, I make note of those. If I name them for a specific purpose, or because the name has a meaning of importance to me, I include that. As things move on, I add notes about the type of weapon the person uses, where the person is from, the names of his/her parents or siblings, or even of the horse the person rode in on (should any of those things come to be shared).
I use my characters lists regularly, to keep the details of my characters true throughout. I also include notes of things I think they will do, or purposes I expect they will serve in the future. And it’s a good thing that I do, too, because sometimes those issues are of extreme importance later—and had I not noted them, I might otherwise have forgotten them!
For example, when I started book three of The Oathtaker Series, (now—finally—with a title, namely, Ephemeral and Fleeting), I was stuck at the very beginning. There was a key issue that I had to resolve before I could even get through the first scene. In fact, I’d known details of that scene for some time. I knew it was unquestionably the way the story had to open—even though I was saddened by what was going to happen. But I had to resolve a central problem in order to complete that scene. I struggled for the answer. Then, when looking back at an old character list, there it was, in bold black and white. I discovered that, years prior, I’d made notes of the answer to the central issue/problem, not only of that opening scene, but of the entire tale. From the second I discovered my old note, it took me all of five months to write the almost 140,000 word tale—the crux of which depended on that note. So, most certainly, I do keep such a list! I cannot imagine writing without one!
How about you? Do you write? What tools do you use for character development?
2/4/2017 11:18:58 am
The notes a writer uses to keep one book on track can be long. When we get into multi-novel works, it's no wonder we have to keep a copious "series bible"! It can be so fun—and so challenging—when characters take on a life of their own. I have one of those in my current series, "The Mage's Gift." A young man meant to play a bit part ended up filling a much larger role, which makes me have to think of how (or whether) he continues! Great stuff.
"From time to time, a party will so surprise me, that I have to give him or her a much more important role than I’d originally intended." Loved that line! So true. I find I am often surprised by some introduction, and before you know it I've spent more time with this character than any of my outlines would have indicated. It's like meeting a friend you never expected to make.
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