Sunday, October 4, 2009

Who Are These People, Anyway?

In planning for Nanowrimo in November I am trying to sketch out some characters. There's a lot to cover in creating a new character and a new world for them to live in. Not to mention minor characters, enemies, friends, and other major characters as well. Then they all need names, backgrounds, history, virtues, vices, and desires to make them more realistic. I hardly know where to start!

So here are some good points to help me, and you, start creating the next great fictional character.

First, the basics and some other fun things to think about from Writer's Community:
Full name (try
Date and city of birth
Hair and eye color
Clothing style
Marital status
Relationship health
Physical health/abnormalities
Source of conflict/interest
Type of people with whom he/she associates
Ultimate goals
Favorite places
Favorite food

These are good things to keep in mind when you are creating a character. But when you start to try and tell their story and show their interactions with other people there are more things you need to know. Patti Stafford wrote a great post on her blog and listed the following additional things to consider when building characters:
What does the character want?
What drives the character?
What stands in the character’s way?
What is the character willing to do to get it?
How will the character handle the obstacles that keep him/her from their want?
Character Traits:
moral, ethic, religious beliefs
goals, hopes, dreams
flaws–all characters must have some flaws too!

Alright, so now we have some basics down and we've gone a little deeper to figure out more about our characters so we can make them more realistic. What's next? The story and the plot need to move with together with your characters.

Jane Friedman has a great post up over at the Writer's Digest blog about your protagonist. Definitely go read the whole post where she uses Harry Potter to illustrate the importance of your protag having a goal. To sum up, you must make sure that;
1. Our story has a protagonist.
2. Our protagonist has a driving goal.
3. Our protagonist has the right goal.
4. Our protagonist is the right protagonist—one who would accept wise advice when given (follow the Yellow Brick Road), but one who doesn't just get led around by parents, wise mentors, angels, friendly locals, etc.

These are the most difficult for me to write , for some reason. I think I'm getting better, though, as I think about and study antagonists that stick out in my mind. From Creative Writing Corner, three things to keep in mind when writing an immoral character:
People don't act randomly - make sure the things your bad guy does make sense.
You, as the writer, need to withhold judgment - let your reader decide.
Let your antagonist show some sympathy or compassion to make them more complex and rounded.
For some additional guidance:
The famous Evil Overlord list - absolutely hilarious but also some good things to keep in mind.
Other Antagonist No-No's from Paperback Writer. There are also several links at the end of this post that are rather helpful.

In the end, I think that Neil Gaiman wrapped it up nicely when he said, "...I learned that if you cared enough about your characters, what happened to them was interesting. I'm not sure that's much of an aphorism, but it's important to care about them, about who they are and what they do. And (for me) for them to be people I would want to spend time with -- I don't really care whose side they are on, and they can be monstrous on the outside or, worse, on the inside, but you still have to want to spend time with them. If you met one of these characters socially would you talk to them, or make an excuse and flee?"

Other fantastic links:
Several writers find it beneficial to do some acting to get into your characters' heads. Blog post at Writers Anonymous and one from Teresa Frohock that also includes more links.

On making your characters realistic and credible from David Weber over at This one is lengthy but worth at least a skim.

And if the character you create doesn't work out right, don't give up. Joe Nassise over at Genreality describes how he inserted a previously created character into a work and the unexpected result. Save your characters because they might be perfect for a different story.

1 comment:

Mikal said...

I'm glad that you found some inspiration on my post on using acting as a method to understand your characters. Best of luck with NaNoWriMo!