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WriYe Blogging Circle #1: On Characters

WriYe people are awesome. We're always encouraging others and trying new things and jumping in head first into new projects. Like this one. This year, we've started a blog circle. Which I am a part of. And every Wednesday there's going to be a new topic -- which, yes, people of the interwebz, means that I am officially committed to posting here at least once a week this year. I know. We'll see how long I last... Well, this started last week. What's tomorrow? Wednesday. Awesome.

So, here I am... Late to the party because of work, per usual. But, you know... Someone's gotta be last, why the hell not let it be me.

This week's topic is Characters, specifically their development. And, in reading everyone's, I've learned that I... Am weird in this regard? I know, it was a shocker to me, too. [Yeah, not really. I'm usually the weird one...] There was a lot of mention of asking questions and filling out "questionnaires" / character sheets. I so rarely do that sort of thing with my characters until after the novel is done. So much so, in fact, that I consider those to be more of an editing and revising tool than a world-building one.

Yeah. I told you I was the weird one.

But, Erin? How do you get to know who you're writing about without figuring out their favorite ice cream flavor!!!? You may be asking. And I've found that the best way for me to get a fully-developed character is to sit down and throw them into a situation and just write. Dump them in a broken down car in the middle of a big city that they're unfamiliar with. Do they jump out and ask anyone who happens to be around for help? Are they prepared and call the mechanics, staying locked up in the car, terrified for their life? Do they crawl under the hood and knock a few things around, coming back up messy as all get out, but with a working vehicle? Those are the sorts of situational things that you can just figure out while they're happening. For me, writing these random little blurbs is way more effective than filling out a MySpace Style Survey with a million irrelevant questions. Reactions speak so loudly to a character's... Er, character than their favorite color or what their bedtime routine is.

Granted, I do usually plan out a few things beforehand. Like, hair and eye color. Approximate height and body structure. Where they are from and where they live now. And that's about it. Well, and a name. I can't jump in without a name for a main character. Minors? Sure. They get placeholders like [OLD GRUMPFACE] or [UGLY LOSER] or [HOT TEACHER MAN]. But not the focal point. No; they need a name to grow into. And sometimes the name doesn't work. I'm not opposed to changing it. Ever. Sometimes six or seven times before I'm happy with the way the personality and the name fit. BUT. I am not one of those writers that spend hours looking up obscure names with ~special meanings on baby name sites, either. There's nothing wrong with the people that do that... It's just not me.

Something else I do, is I leave my dossier open [or at least accessible] while I'm working on those pieces, or even whilst working on the novel itself, because sometimes there's a random little detail that comes out that I want to make note of. Like "tugs on shirt hem when nervous" or "has two little sisters who he adores" or anything like that. Stuff that I want to make sure I keep consistent, but maybe didn't make mention to before... Or glossed over an opportunity to use said information previously.

Really, getting to know characters for me is less of a science and more of a social experiment. I treat getting to know them like I would getting to know a new coworker or classmate. I take them out for a spin and see if they work with me [or, in the case of characters, with the other fictional people in the book that they're starring in] and then make adjustments accordingly. Maybe they aren't interesting enough to be a main character. Okay, let's move on. Maybe they're not the heterosexual pretty boy that I thought they were. Okay, give him a nice boyfriend to make him happy.

For me, characters are what make or break the novel... The trick to making it work is letting them become real people on a page. Without that life, your book is never going to resonate and make the connections that you want it to.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 11th, 2012 04:28 pm (UTC)
This USUALLY is what ends up happening with me. I fill out a few basics on the character sheets and then get bored and start writing. Only after a few paragraphs, pages, chapters, etc, do I understand my characters. And even after all that, sometimes I still don't! (Just like people, really.)
Jan. 11th, 2012 04:51 pm (UTC)
I do characterization the same way. I've never really seen the point of character sheets, and in fact I think they would hurt more than help (at least for me; I know I would probably get so caught up in figuring out minutae that I would never start writing). After the character has been pretty developed, sure, they might be fun to fill out. But I prefer actual writing to figure out characterization. It feels so much more organic and complete that way--living and breathing, not just a list of facts on a page.
Jan. 23rd, 2012 08:41 pm (UTC)
You must name Old Grumpface after me. It is a requirement.

I like your ways of character development. I think it makes them the most realistic.

But you know, ice cream says a lot about a man. If he's boring old vanilla, who wants that? ;)
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )