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.
~ basics (gender, age, ethnicity, identifying features, color, approximate height, weight, and build)
~ lifestyle (and how it affects appearance)
~ body language
~ false belief
(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.