Getting to Know You

14 thoughts on “Getting to Know You”

  1. I don’t have a formula. I just listen when, as I’m writing, things pop into my head. I don’t try to figure out the entire personality of a character before I start writing. I only have a rough sketch of each character to begin, like “she puts up a wall of toughness but is actually vulnerable” or “he’s rigid and upstanding but loving.” The characters’ reactions to each other say more about their personalities than the characters’ internal thoughts do. At least they do for me.

    That’s what I’ve been doing too. It makes me feel like the characters change over time, though, and I’m trying to avoid that in future books. Glad I’m not the only one with only a sketch character outline before beginning! Yay!

    I say, free-write some dialogue between characters, maybe it won’t even make it into the manuscript, and then see what you just revealed about those characters.

    You know, that’s how GH started. HA!

    1. Oh yeah, forgot about that!

      You think it’s a bad thing that characters change over time? I see it as only natural, since you’re getting to know them. Of course, then you have to go back and make decisions one way or the other, but that is what the 2nd draft is for. 🙂

      I don’t know if it’s a “bad” thing, per se, but it’s a problem in the story. I don’t think a character’s personality and habits should evolve over a story, and it makes too much work in the editing process. And if the character grows and changes in THAT process, there’s a THIRD rewrite coming. And so on. And so on, ad infinitum, ad nauseum, until the book’s never finished. I think having a solidified character who’s altered in one aspect or two by the story events is what’s supposed to happen; but too much can go on because the writer’s not gelled with the character’s personality yet. Make sense? 🙂

      1. Yeah, it makes sense. I guess I’ve never had that problem.

        Figures … leave it to me to find a unique problem with stuff. LOL!

  2. Hmmmm

    When it comes to my characters a lot of them have been percolating in my mind for a while- Chaptain Hero and Mario Krump from my 5 second fictions are actually characters I invented in high school.

    I think in many ways the way I approach a character is dictated about what kind of story I am trying to tell. Is the stories inspiration plot oriented or character oriented?

    Sometimes I just start with the barest outlines of a character and let everything kind of fill itself in. I also steal bits and pieces from people I know- Mr. Suano and Ms. Ginmett are based on former co-workers, Shardovan is named after a supporting character from a Doctor Who episode but based on a role playing game character I created.

    Some of my characters are born of songs… this is very true of my novel IN THE MIDNIGHT OF HIS HEART. That book was born of Tori Amos, Metallica and Tom Waits.

    Now if the plot came to me before the story itself the characters are crafted to fit into the story outline. A good example of that is CANADIAN GIRLFRIEND- the premise and the ending were all I had. All the characters were constructed to service that plot but I tried to had enough humor and humanity to make them relatable. (Some editors however have said my characters never do anything- I am not sure I agree.)

    I even outright steal chracters. My next serial novel has a character based on Mr. Wilde from THE REPAIRER OF REPUTATIONS. I make no aplogies for that and ultimately I used Mr. Wilde as more of a template and built my character around the same ideas.

    So my chracters come from everywhere and nowhere.

    So this post has taught us nothing.

    Oh well. Thanks for trying. 😉

  3. I like to pull on the extreme people I have met in my life. After I get a pretty good picture of them in my head I temper it with the more “normal” or main stream types. It might be a homeless woman that randomly came up to me at the mall. That’s a little out of the box. Thing is, she has a past. So I think of all the women that I know well that seem to be around her age, think about their pasts, then the fun part…figure out what went different with the more extreme personality. Track it back to how they got there. Then I can set her at a different age. I do this all the time…love to people watch! Love people (and characters) that are always trying to cross the lines. I think it’s the psych degree in me.

    I’d bet a psych degree would go a long way toward character development, fo’ sho’! Unfortunately, that’s out of the question for me at this point. So people watching — a favorite pastime of mine — will have to suffice on its own for now. 🙂 Thanks Jaymie!

  4. Next time you’re at the library, see if you can check out Orson Scott Card’s “Characters and Viewpoint.”

    I will, thank you. I enjoyed his book on writing SpecFic.

    Also, here’s a good article on what makes an interesting character. http://jimbutcher.livejournal.com/1698.html

    I hear a lot about this Butcher guy. I’ll have to check him out.

    One way I create characters is I start with

    1 – Main Strength
    1 – Minor Strength
    1 – Contrasting Weakness (like Indiana Jones is afraid of snakes)
    1 – Quirk

    Then I layout a couple of tags – words I will commonly use to describe the character (and only use to describe the character). For Doc Savage, this would be stuff like “bronze skin”, “bronze giant”, “genius mind”.

    Don’t forget “works out his eyeballs”!

    Then I work out a couple of traits – ways the character acts/responds. Preferably, these are related to the strengths/weaknesses, but not always.
    Example.
    – Brushes away mess-ups with humor.
    – Cannot answer a personal question without telling at least one lie.

    Columbo would have a trait of dropping a bombshell of info just before leaving a room.

    After that, depending on the importance of the character, I work out the “why” the character acts that way.

    Awesome, awesome info, Bryce. Add a little depth and a few more examples and this would be an AWESOME blog post all by itself. Thank you sir!

  5. There have been some really good suggestions posted on how to come up with characters, so I’ll just mention my pet peeve. I hate it when all the characters in a book or screenplay talk exactly like one another. Like in Woody Allen movies, where everyone talks like Woody Allen.

    Thank you, Sparklingred. I need to hear things like this! Okay *jotting notes* … vary dialog speech patterns between characters … avoid Woody Allen-ness. Gotcha. 🙂

    1. I wish my characters sounded like Woody Allen characters.

      Mine all talk like aliens with woodys.

      Woody Allen … woody alien … I can see how you’d confuse those.

  6. Characters that have stayed with me:

    Phedre Delaunay – Kushiel’s Dart (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0312872380/susanofearna)

    Kvothe – The Name of the Wind (http://www.patrickrothfuss.com/content/books.asp)

    I wonder what’s happening with them now; that’s the sign of a good storyteller and excellent character development. I even thought for a brief moment of naming our daughter Phedre (Fey-dra) but figured Ben would never go for it.

    Yeah, I can see myself having a problem with that if Fal had tried it. 🙂

    I’m with Red – I hate characters that all sound the same. I think you did a great job with Dillon and JD. The dialog in Ghost Hunters is amazing.

    Aww! Thanks hon! What a sweet thing to say! *blush*

    Also, thanks for letting non-writers weigh in; I almost hit “back” on my browser before I read that far. However, you’re in big trouble, mister for making me hum, “getting to know you… getting to know all abouuuuutttt youuuuu” under my breath all afternoon. There will be sweet sweet revenge.

    Bring it, babe. 😉 (At least the title’s memorable, no? 😀 )

  7. Characters just come to me. The names, the personalities do reveal themselves as I write and I often “find” them in people I know or cross paths with. I do not spend any more time creating characters than I do writing storyline for them.

    I liken characters to giving birth to a child. My daughter was who she was long before I could actively mold her. My characters arrive in somewhat the same state.

    This is not uncommon for writers to tell me. I guess I lack imagination and other writerly characteristics, because the division between real and imaginary are clear to me; if I don’t imagine them, the characters don’t exist. I know many more like you than like me, which is worrisome for me.

  8. ….I swear you dont listen to a word I say….ahahah…As a reader the best characters are real people. Biographies are so wide read cause people identify with others and the things that happened to them….in my case story of Lance Armstrong. The best way to create and develop a character is think about yourself and in any given circumstance.

    What would you be like in the Old West..given your personality and all…..anyway hope it helps…Zman

    Actually, it sort of does, thanks, Steve!

  9. I’ve tried lots of those lists and things. I especially liked What Would Your Character Do? by E. Maisel. At least, I think I’ve got that right. I rarely actually write any of his exercises down, but I do them in my head and they seem to help me with a few characters.

    Most of the time though, when I try notecards, lists, and tags or whatever, I get frustrated and just want to write the damn story. I start with an image of a character in my head and go from there. What kind of gestures would so-and-so make? Would this person speak directly or in circles? Bluntly? Who annoys them? What frustrates them?

    I’m this way too. I just want to write and worry about the rest later. Problem is, I usually get in trouble when I do this and the characters are changing under me.

    But for one example I’ll use the first novel I wrote–The Blue Jar. It all started with a writing prompt–marbles. Okay. What could I write about marbles other than the game? The sound of marbles falling down wooden stairs. Well, why would they do that? A girl spills them? Why does she do that? She is angry. From there I figured out that she is the sort of girl who damages things that belong to people she’s angry at. She’s an angry person. She’s willing to provoke a fight–even with her older brother who actually scares her. I just went from there. And that character seemed very clear to me.

    Don’t know if that helps at all, but there is no one right way–just the way that works for you.

    Good luck!

    Thanks. I’m gonna need it, I think. 🙂

  10. My characters are a mish mash of people I know in life. I then begin to layout their quirks and types as I write. Typically not ahead of time. I know this is a major mistake but I have the main characters in my head well ahead of time. Supporting characters are easy.

    Interesting technique, DZ. Don’t know if I’ve ever heard that one before.

  11. As an avid reader I always enjoy the characters the most that “sound” like real people. That’s one of the reasons I like Stephen King because he writes dialogue that sounds realistic especially in a couple that stand out to me, “The Body” and the “The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon” though in that one it was internal dialogue most of the time. I think in both of those stories he got the sound and believability of the children. I know in “The Body” he took me back to those days in that time so well that I kept thinking, “Gawd, I remember that!”

    I love the mix of humor as well as seriousness because isn’t that life? Stories that mix the two well interest me the most.

    This is something I’ve always loved about King too. And it’s something I strive for in my own writing; I work hard to inject humor even in the tense situations, because for me, some of my most side-splitting laughter came in moments after a huge adrenaline rush. Thanks for sounding off Delaney!

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