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?

Making Those Fun Little Characters…

So, since I’m working on a new story, I figured I’d talk about my writing process and that fun stuff.  Today, I’m going to talk about—*drum roll*—creating characters!  Characters are one of the most important part of a story after all.  You can have an amazing, original plot and a believable, fun world, but without characters… Good luck telling the story!

Alright, so when I create characters, I have two ways of going about this.  First, is to fill out a character creation form.  This is good for characters that you already have a bit of an idea of who they are, or you want a really detailed character.  I often use these for my protagonists and narrators.  The one I use most often is the Elfwood Character Creation Form.

But sometimes, that just doesn’t cut it.  Maybe filling out the form is too tedious, or you don’t need that much information, or maybe you just need a new character, right then and there, without much to him or her.  In this case, I make up the personality by describing their appearance.  Sounds a little strange, I know, but hear me out.

A lot of times, when a writer is describing a new character, they give you some general information.  Height, eye color, hair color, et cetera.  Good police profile, but when you’re trying to introduce a character, it’s not so nice.  Why?  Because, well, think about it.  Why are you describing this character to begin with?  A. You want to tell the reader who this person is, and B. you want them to see the character like you do.  Well, if you do a simple police profile, you won’t necessarily give a detailed image.  For example, what if I tell you that I have brown hair and blue eyes?  And freckles?  Do you know what I look like now?  If you were to find an image of me, would you be able to tell that it was me, just with the information I gave you?  No way.  There are a lot of people out there with brown hair, blue eyes, and freckles.

So, if you’re not supposed to give the simple facts, then should you spend three paragraphs describing some more of the details?  No, you’ll bore your reader.  What you should do is pick three, really important features of the character that really stand out, and tell those to your reader.  After all, what color their hair is isn’t really important to the plot, is it?  Even if it was, you can tell the reader simple things like height, hair style, et cetera in other ways.  It’s not that important when the character is first introduced.

Say you told the reader that your newest character had unbrushed hair and simple, slightly wrinkled clothing.  This will paint one of two images—the first being that this character is very busy, so much, in fact, that they had no chance to worry about what they looked like.  Or, you will get the picture that this person is casual, laid back, and doesn’t care what they look like.  You can add to either of those images by showing other details.  Are they dirty or clean?  Are they holding anything?

In the end, you can use this method two ways.  If you have a personality, you can pick the right things to give an appearance that reflects that.  Or, you can pick three random things about the appearance, and use whatever personality comes with it.

You can also do this with other things, like actions.  All you have to say is ‘he smacked his forehead into the doorway’, and you the know the character is tall.  Or he’s visiting a hobbit.

Anyway…  there’s my ramble on character creation.