A Scribbled Draft: Character Creation

I started a new project, Sleeping in Cyberspace, and this is the only first draft I’ve attempted to really write in about a year.  I’ve learned so much about my writing style since then, this draft is both trying new things and exploring old things.  Since it’s guaranteed to be a whole new learning experience, I’m going to blog through every step of it.


My general rule with characters is that when they start talking back at me and taking things in their own direction, they’re developed pretty well.  Of course, getting them to that point is a different adventure for each individual character.

About a year or so ago, I wrote up what I thought was a pretty spiffy and cool character sheet.  Was it?  Eh.  Not really.  It had some things in there I liked, and some things I didn’t.

Most importantly, though?

I never once filled it out fully for a single character.  Not even once. Sometimes I got kind of close, but only when I was trying to find ways to procrastinate from doing actual productive writing.  What’s the point in having a character sheet specifically for me, if I never actually used it?

Kind of like with my writing, I think I’ve realized I like to know enough to know where I’m going and what I’m dealing with, and then I’ll discover the nitty gritty details as I’m writing it.  So eventually, I came up with this.

NAME:

NICKNAME:

APPEARANCE:

~ basics (gender, age, ethnicity, identifying features, color, approximate height, weight, and build)

~ lifestyle (and how it affects appearance)

~ faults

~ clothes

~ body language

PERSONALITY:

~ fear

~ secret

~ flaw

~ quirk

ARC:

~ trigger

~ false belief

BACKSTORY:

OTHER:

(The personality part references another post that I don’t have the link to at the moment, about how the four foundations of a character are fear(s), secret(s), flaw(s), and quirk(s).  I think it’s kind of self-explanatory.  Everybody’s afraid of something, everybody has a secret (even if it’s a minor one), everybody has a flaw (basic rule in creating cool characters?  Flaws.  Always.), and…quirks.  Well, I think everybody has quirks, too, considering I haven’t met anybody without one.  Quirks are usually just little odd things about a person that make them interesting.  It can be a physical thing, a perspective thing, a personality thing, whatever you want.
The ARC portion of this is in reference to the Character Evolution Files, which I linked to in this post, so I won’t link to it again.)

Name, appearance, basic personality traits.  This is far from in-depth.  It’s pretty simple, I’d think, actually.  But what it does is, it helps you find the “essence” of a character.

For me, the essence is the important part.  Not the details.   I can have all the details I want, but if I don’t have the essence figured out, the character falls so, so flat.  Not only that, but it’s hard to figure out the details without that.

It’s hard to explain what exactly the essence is, because it’s not specific details.  I find the essence of my characters in different ways.  In my current WIP, one of my protagonists, Ceveth, showed me his essence when I realized how his older siblings treated him and how he felt about it.  In another project, I found a character’s essence when she told me, very determinedly, that her name was Sidney and she didn’t care if I liked the name or not because that was very definitely her name.

I think what it is is the general feel of the character.  It’s not specifics, it’s not details, it’s not even necessarily vivid.  It’s vague, and I have to really search for it, and sometimes, I don’t even understand it.  A few times, I don’t even know that I have it.  But once I do, I hold on tightly to it, and then I start to learn the other things about them that I don’t know yet, and I cement it into place, until I have a character who fully comes to life.

Each character reveals his or her essence at different times for me.  So sometimes, it takes a while to find it, so I fill out the parts of the character sheet above, until I strike on something.  Sometimes, they give it to me instantly, and then I use it to fill in the information above.  (It sounds like this weird balance, doesn’t it?  I use the sheet to get to know them, but I know them to fill out the sheet.  And yet it works.)

It sort of becomes this equation.

essence of the character

+

basic details to begin to cement who they are

+

a little exploration of them through actual writing

+

that moment when they start taking the story a slightly different path than I wanted/expected and I realize that they’re in control

= a developed character

Thankfully, I’m not half-bad at math.

How about the rest of you?  How do you develop your characters?  How do you tell when you’ve done enough developing?
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A Scribbled Draft: The Pain-in-the-Fingers That is Chapter One

I started a new project, Sleeping in Cyberspace, and this is the only first draft I’ve attempted to really write in about a year.  I’ve learned so much about my writing style since then, this draft is both trying new things and exploring old things.  Since it’s guaranteed to be a whole new learning experience, I’m going to blog through every step of it.


The other day, I shared my first chapter, and if I’m totally honest, I’m pretty proud of that chapter, for a couple of different reasons.  Mostly, it feels like a stronger beginning than most of my beginnings do, although it probably needs work (it is a first draft after all).

I know from other things I’ve read and some Writing Excuses episodes that one of the biggest things first chapters need to do is, well, introduce the story.  Not just be a beginning (although obviously they do that, too), but let the reader know exactly what kind of story they’re reading.  What genre is the story?  What is the tone?  Is it dark?  Is it humorous?  Is it lighthearted and cheery?

It’s like a promise.  You’re promising the reader what kind of story it’ll be, based on what they read here.  If your first chapter is funny, you’re basically promising the entire story will be funny.

Another thing that first chapters should do is, well, interest the readers and make them read chapter two.

When I was writing the chapter, I knew I was writing sci-fi, and I knew the plot was a heist.  I knew that a big part of the story is the relationship between my three main characters.  I also knew that I was more or less following the three act structure, and like the first part of that is “ordinary world”.  In other words, I have to show the readers what “normal” is for them, because in the next few chapters, I’m going to totally wreck the mundane.  (Even if it’s a heist, I am following some of the Hero’s Journey structure, and so yeah, they do basically get their whole world wrecked.)

So from there, I had to figure out what I wanted to start the story with that would let the reader know all of this, right from the start.  I had the idea that the first chapter needed to be a mini-heist—hence promising more heist later on—and also starting the story off with action, thus fulfilling the “in late, out early” idea.  At the same time, it shows what’s “normal”—Ceveth knows exactly what he’s doing and never once is he uncertain about it—and yet he’s nervous about being caught by his older brother, even as his sister tries to pressure him into being faster, which introduces both the characters and the relationships they have with each other.

Keeping the right tone was fairly easily, although that’s mostly because pretty much every single piece of my writing has a similar tone.  I haven’t figured out how to explore with different tones yet.

There are a couple of things I didn’t introduce here. For example, I don’t know that anybody could guess this was a Sleeping Beauty retelling simply by the chapter alone.  And then, there are a few things, such as Izioth, that I mentioned, but didn’t describe—and other things I didn’t mention at all.  There’s another important character, but she won’t even be introduced until chapter three or four, I think.

Not everything needs to be introduced in chapter one.  Not even the inciting incident necessarily has to happen in chapter one.  (Mine happens probably in chapter four.)  Of course, ‘in late, out early’ might disagree with me, but how “late” a story is started I think depends on the individual story (and probably who’s writing it).  Although it’s certainly possible that maybe further along the lines, I’ll decide I started the story too early and I need to cut the first few chapters, right now, I don’t think I did.  I think this is where the story needed to start.  Because it introduces just enough for the reader to know what the story is about, without info dumping with too much.

I think that’s what a first chapter is all about.  Get me interested, and tell me just enough that I’m not lost and that I’ll keep reading and go to chapter two.  And be aware that chapter one sets up expectations—those are the promises—that have to be fulfilled, or else readers’ll be disappointed.