Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Characters 101


First off, I want to thank you all for sharing your stories and being so supportive of my September 11th experience. I almost didn't post it, but many bloggers encouraged me to tell my story. So, thank you all, so very much.

Second, I've got the grippe. Or whatever. I'm phlegmy and headachey and I feel like someone put my sinuses into a can of leftover Fresca and smashed it to smithereens, then force-fed me sandpaper. Yes, that's me.

So if I'm horrible about visiting your blogs, please forgive me. My Nyquil-infused body thanks you.

This month's Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog question comes from Sarah Fine. She asks,

"How do you develop your characters? Do you flesh out the details before (like writing as that character, writing backstory, or filling out a questionnaire about their preferences and history) or invent as you go?"

I have previously blogged about using character sheets, which I find pretty helpful. I like the idea of getting to know my characters before I write. What does they like to wear? What are their quirks? Strengths and weaknesses?

But lately, I've noticed that even if I fill out a sheet and *think* I know her well, I usually have to go back and do some major character refurbishing anyway.

The truth is, no matter how detailed an outline I have, scenes and plotlines often must be deconstructed and reconstructed, and the characters aren't immune to change either.

So the answer to Sarah's question? I do both.

Also, for the minor characters, I usually invent their characteristics as I write. :) Because I'm a little bit outliner, a little bit "pants-and-roll."

Last week, Laura answered the question and next week, we get to hear Sarah tackle it, then Deb.

How about you? How to you create your characters?

*achoo!* Ah, gross. Didn't grab that tissue in time. Sorry guys.

50 comments:

Laura Pauling said...

I do both too. I plot and I plan and I need that to start but sometimes it totally changes as I write, which is as it should be.

Miranda Hardy said...

I'm a bit of a panster, too. Sometimes my characters develop traits I had no intention of them having.

Em-Musing said...

I'm also a pantser and my characters just unfold. Hope you feel better soon. Saline up the nose might help.

Christine Danek said...

I'm more of a panster, but I do some interviews with my characters. Hope you feel better soon.

Connie Keller said...

I hope you feel better soon! Try a vaporizer.

Old Kitty said...

Oh no!! I hope the grippe lets go of you asap!! You poor thing - rest, rest, rest!!! Please get better!!!

I'm a panster so my characters are blank pages until I actually write (or type!).

Take care
x

E Louise Bates said...

So sorry that you're sick. No fun!

My stories are usually completely character-driven, which means (for me), that the characters develop in my head so fully before I ever start writing that I don't even need a character sheet or anything like that. I usually just know them so well that I already know what they will wear, how they will respond, what they will eat, etc, in any given situation. Pretty fun, except when they take over my story due to their strong personalities, and it's all I can do to catch up!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

My process has changed over several books. I've been using John Truby's The Anatomy of Story for my current project. You do A LOT of figuring out of the characters before hand. It's still not enough for me, but it's an awesome start.

I used to fill in a questionnaire, but this time I cut out most of the questions. I ended up making my characters feel less real to more. Since I already know so much about them from John's exercises, I'm working on freestyle writing right now, and writing down whatever I feel is important to know about each character (like backstory), even if it doesn't end up in the book. The funny thing is I started out writing in third person, then at some point, switched to first as the character came to life on the page.

storyqueen said...

A little bit pants-and-roll! Hahaha! (Does that date me if I caught the Donny and Marie reference?)

Hope you feel better soon. If it's what I had, it took a full week and a half until I felt even slightly human again.

Shelley

Shelly said...

Bless you! I'm more pants and roll myself, but I do teach my students how to outline a character.

Linda Gray said...

So sorry for your sinusy misery! That's the pits.
I do the same with character construction as you do. I have to know my characters first, before writing the book. Then when I've written it, I find out I didn't know them as well as I needed to! Always an adventure.

B.E. Sanderson said...

First off, let me tell you how much I love your drawings. That one was great. =o)

Next, get better. We can't have the doctor out sick. Seriously. But something does seem to be making it's way around the country. I just read another blog - from a gal in CA - who's got the same crud.

Last, when I write, the characters seem to create themselves. I can't put my finger on the exact process I use, so I'm blaming them. They want what they want, and I'm just along for the ride. =o)

Deb Salisbury said...

Hugs to you! Get well soon.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Lydia .. very glad you posted about 9/11 and your experiences on that day .. very difficult ..

Sorry about the grippe - hope it clears up soon .. never nice and it's usually just grotty ..

Look after yourself - cheers Hilary

Stephen Tremp said...

I definitely invent as I go along. Its fun to watch as characters compete for page time with each other. Some characters charge to the front that originally I thought would have bit roles, while others fall to the wayside, waiting their turn in a sequel.

Suze said...

'I'm phlegmy and headachey and I feel like someone put my sinuses into a can of leftover Fresca and smashed it to smithereens, then force-fed me sandpaper. Yes, that's me.'

Wow. Now, that's good writing, right there.

Get off the computer and go to bed, babe. Feel better.

LD Masterson said...

I usually have my lead characters pretty well developed before I start, lesser characters develop as I go. But sometimes a major character will want to do/say something that's...well, out of character. Then I have to go back and re-think my orignal descriptions.

Hope you feel better soon.

lbdiamond said...

Thanks for sharing your method!

Hope you feel better soon. :(

Carol Riggs said...

Feel better soon, and rest up! Edited version of that sentence: Rest up, and feel better soon! (see, the rest will make you feel better--action before the outcome). LOL

Matthew MacNish said...

When I hear "character sheets," I think, Dungeons and Dragons. Which is fun.

Get well soon, Lydia!

Carol Kilgore said...

I think I write much like you. Take care of that mess in your head.

Heather said...

I love character sheets too but I've recently discovered writing short stories about my characters on the side. They aren't anything I plan on putting in the novel which give me freedom to have fun with them and get to know my characters.

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

I also do both. I scribble like a crazy woman about my characters, and then they take over the story on their own despite me.

Feel better! I loved your description on being sick--force fed you sandpaper. *snickers*

Meredith said...

Character development is one of my fave parts of the writing process! Asking my characters questions definitely helps me write the first draft. Feel better soon!

Sarah said...

Hope you feel better soon! I think I operate the same way, planning some things out, but letting others occur to me organically as I'm writing.

cherie said...

Oh no! Sorry you're sick. No fun :(

As for my characters, I see them in my mind before I create them. I'm a pantser by nature so I start out that way, and then boom! I get the whole picture. Though sometimes they surprise me and I find new and interesting tidbits about them along the way. So it's fun. :) Get better soon!

jbchicoine said...

No matter how many questionaires I fill out, I still learn my characters as I watch them interact with other characters. They are always surprising me!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Sorry you're sick! I outline my characters before I begin, although as you said, a few adjustments become necessary as I write.

Carrie Butler said...

I'm the same way. I'll get a really good feel for my MC, then she'll change later, as if to say, "Hah! You thought you knew me?" *grins*

P.S. Feel better! :)

Kelly Polark said...

Feel better, Lydia!

I'm a little bit outliner, little bit pants n roll too. Ha love it!

M Pax said...

I'll flesh out the big stuff before I start, but now I've saved detail work and outlining for after the first draft.

Ciara said...

I tend to outline plots and I answer questions and explore my characters, but honestly they are not fleshed out until I get to know them better. Usually after the first draft is done.

catherinemjohnson.wordpress.com said...

Get well soon Lydia.

Jen Chandler said...

Ugh! Feel better *hands over a box of tissue..you know, the ones with lotion :D*

I'm a panster mostly. I do make outlines that turn into summaries and then evolve into part of the book I have to splice in eventually. I'd love to be able to use character sheets but I get board and leave them half finished!

Get well soon,
Jen

The Golden Eagle said...

Hope you feel better soon!

I almost never create something like a questionnaire. I usually have some kind of idea of my characters in my head before I start writing, though.

Jennifer Hillier said...

Pants-and-roll... love it!

I usually have my MC and my villain (because I always do have a villain) in my head before I start writing, and everybody else materializes as I go. I'm a panster all the way, though I might try something different for my next book.

Feel better, Lydia!

Robert Guthrie said...

On characters - I go with my gut. Writing character outlines, for me, are planting seeds... I forget about them and they grow on their own, as long as I'm watering them with enough writing. And my gut keeps me in check.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

I ask of each of my characters : What drives them? Why What do they think will ease their particular inner demon or problem?

Is she a cat burglar? Why? What natural skills must she possess to even consider this occupation? What learned skills must she have to do her job? Where did she go to learn to be a cat burglar? Is she happy with her lot? Why? Why not?

Hope you get better very quickly, Roland

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LTM said...

argh. Sorry you've got a cold. My little one does, too. :p

As for characters, it depends. Some I just know for some reason right away. No planning needed. Some develop as I write, and some I think think think about and still don't feel like I've got a good handle on. Then I start talking about them to my husband, and voila! :D

good stuff~ <3

Carolyn Abiad said...

I attended a conference workshop where we "put things in a box" for our character. The kind of box you think of is important, the shape, etc. Then we put in things like: what the character would hide, what the character admired, etc. More that just hair color, age, etc. It was a valuable exercise for me.

Olga said...

Get well soon! Do all you can to make your immune system invincible.

nutschell said...

I'm so glad you shared your 9/11 experience. It's always good to remember a big event such as this by learning how other people lived through the day.
I hope you get better soon. Drink lots of water!
nutschell
www.thewritingnut.com

Krispy said...

Hope you feel better soon! My sister got sick during our vacation & had to be nyquiled up too. :P

I'm a pantser straight through, so my characters reveal themselves to me as I go. I generally have a basic idea of what kind of person they are, but yeah, I can't always rattle off stats about their likes and dislikes if you ask.

WritingNut said...

I hope you feel better soon! I just got over a nasty cold myself. I'm definitely a pantser... I've tried to be a plotter...but it never works out, so now I'm just going with the flow :)

Emily Rose said...

I hope you get well soon!

Trisha said...

I haven't read your 9/11 story yet, but will get to it.

Hope you feel better soon! Being sick is such a pain!

Angela Ackerman said...

Sorry you're sick--I hope you're feeling better soon. Hugs!

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

Theresa Milstein said...

I hope you've fought off your consumption.

I just start with an idea and let the characters reveal themselves to me.

Ghenet Myrthil said...

I'm still figuring out my process when it comes to characters. I sometimes feel overwhelmed by character sheets so for now, I'm not using them. But this is one of my weaknesses so I need to study up and find other ways to strengthen my characters.

I hope you're feeling better!

 
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