1. Waves
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    Waves New Member

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    Character Outlines - How much is too much?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Waves, Aug 31, 2016.

    Before you start a new writing piece, how much time do you spend on creating your characters? I've started writing some short stories and I'm starting to feel like my characters are very bland. I spent a lot of time on the action/events taking place only to realize that I could barely describe the characters themselves. So what I started doing was taking some extra time to develop the characters as much as I do for the plot. I'll note some of their habits, quirks, favourite foods, personal weaknesses, motives etc.

    I'd really like my characters to come to life so I even create elaborate backstories for them even though they might play a very minor part in the actual story (or if their backstory isn't even relevant to the plot in the case of main characters). Especially since these are short stories I'm starting to think this might be overkill, but in general where do you draw the line?
     
  2. Scot
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    Scot Active Member

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    I complete this checklist when I feel my characters are a bit bland. I'd like to stress I don't often do this before I start writing, perhaps I should.

    Name:
    Male? Female? Animal?
    Age:
    Physical description:
    Likes:
    Dislikes:
    Job:
    Hobbies:
    Special skills:
    Character strengths:
    Character weaknesses: We all have them!
    Class: Upper, middle, working, rich or poor?
    Star sign:
    Religion:
    Good habits:
    Bad habits:
    Preferences:
    Clothing:
    Relatives: Parents? Brothers? Sisters? Sons? Daughters? Aunts? Uncles? Cousins?
    Pets:
     
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  3. Spencer1990
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    Spencer1990 Contributing Member

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    This is a really good list. It's not ridiculous in the type of information that it asks. Especially, as you said, for use when your characters feel flat. A lot of the items in this list aren't necessarily relevant to the story but they do influence the character and how they perceive the world.

    Often, we can get caught up in thinking about specific details for our characters that have no place in the story as an excuse to prolong sitting down and actually writing. Most of my characters happen organically. But I'm actually going to save this list because I do, sometimes, get stuck with flat characters.

    ETA: We would be smart to remember that as writers, we should have more information about our characters than our readers.
     
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  4. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I want to know my characters' MyersBriggs types, I want to know their Dungeons/Dragons Alignments, I want to know their genders, and I want to know what they're doing in whatever scenes I start with (example: a Lawful Evil ESFP male, Neutral Evil ISTJ female, Chaotic Evil ESFJ female, and True Neutral INFJ male planning a major bank robbery, versus a Chaotic Evil INTJ female getting in the way with her own plan).

    That's about it. Everything else (physical appearance, backstory, religious belief, favorite TV show...) is somewhere between free-form and not-mentioned.
     
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  5. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    I don't find that making a list of habits and quirks and favorite foods helps me to develop a character at all. It can be kind of fun or at least diverting, but that's about it - and I used to do pbp rp when character application sheets required like five quirks and ten likes/dislikes and they were tedious and useless so now I can't really stand that kind of thing, hahah.

    For me it's mostly backstory, because imo a person is largely formed by their experiences. I'm very much a planner so I have no problem spending a lot of time developing something before I start to write, both plot and character-wise. There's no rush, eh? Months and months of development is more of a novel thing since they tend to be more complex, but with short stories I'll tend to figure out what key elements of a character will drive the story, and expand from there. You can knock something like that out in an afternoon.

    For example, in a short (or maybe novella; who knows, we'll see) I'm working on now, there's this character who lives almost completely alone in a desert. Problem: she needs to be able to eat out there. So I decided she's a farmer, but to farm in such conditions she must be both pretty well-educated when it comes to agriculture (so she's a scientist), and pretty damn tenacious and independent. Since times are tough, she also supplements her diet with whatever meat she can get her hands on - including human, so she's obviously a pragmatic sort. The other character she lives with is nonverbal, kind of a feral thing, so she must be fairly patient and compassionate to put up with them. So just from her situation, I know she must be clever, tenacious, independent, pragmatic, patient, and compassionate. One of the first things that happens in the plot itself is the other character bringing home a live person, and she has to weigh her pragmatism (should we eat this girl?) against her compassion (should we try to help this girl?), which (I think) is a good way of not only displaying her qualities but showing which ones tend to win out.

    I knew most of this going into writing this character, just by extrapolating from the setting I'd decided on. She has to be a certain way to be in the position she's in, and while her situation is rather dramatic, the method works to varying degrees for any character. Figure out how they got where they are. Did they get there on their own or did someone help them? If no one helped them, someone probably drove them. No one gets where they are for no reason and without any other intervention, whether direct or societal. What kind of important relationships do they have now or used to have, who's influenced them, what caused them to make the decisions they have in the past and what's going to cause them to make the pertinent decisions in the plot itself?

    These kinds of things are a lot more helpful and relevant than figuring out what their favorite ice cream flavor is. Though, for my desert dweller ... probably peanut butter.
     
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  6. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    Name: Burvon, Corlixia
    Male? Female? Animal? Female
    Age: Approx. 500-1000 Years
    Physical description: Pale blue skin, large eyes, bright white hair, four legs, slender hands, and 1.737 m tall toned slender frame.
    Likes: Tea, Fantasy books, Piloting a medium Armor war-frame, utilizing my skills of torture for good, and being highly skilled as a field medic and highly trained as a Surgical Tech.
    Dislikes: Hangovers, being called a bitch, being unsure of things, combating Terran law enforcement, and latrine detail.
    Job: Corporal 1st Class, Full Lance 5th Armor Division, Centuria Defense Force. Field medic and Surgical Tech.
    Hobbies: Torture, Fantasy novels, decimating enemy units in my Medium Class Armor, contemplating how I will engage in physical pleasure with the Ober-Commander (though he already knows I hold him close to my 2 hearts.), and learning and understanding everything around me.
    Special skills: Does the ability to extract information from at least a dozen races count as a talent?
    Character strengths: Hyper Intelligence, loyal to a fault, inquisitive, merciless
    Character weaknesses: We all have them! Unable to understand metaphors, coping with these unknown 'feelings' and emotions, possibly being the only one of my kind in the entire universe, and trying to understand how I fit in along with other things that bother my mind.
    Class: Upper, middle, working, rich or poor? I was revered as a Goddess for the length spent on Ceres by the local inhabitants. Though I was kind to them, I do not understand why the regarded me as a deity. To be fair it was much more pleasant than being used by the other more technologically advanced beings.
    Star sign: I am sorry, but of all the stars I have seen in the sky and throughout my travels, none had a sign.
    Religion: Even the amount of time spent being a Goddess to a simple peoples, I never ascribed to the supernatural.
    Good habits: Cleanliness (Although it is hard to maintain hygienic standards when fighting in a war), Healthy diet, taking initiative, being punctual and honest.
    Bad habits:Mentally and emotionally conflicted. Being bold and brazen like the man my hearts want to some dismay of my tutor, Major Graxis.
    Preferences: Tea over coffee, and fruit, and on occasion the mind and body numbing spirit. Keeping my issued equipment within regulation and up to specs.
    Clothing: Standard issue fatigues, foot wear, and so forth. Though I have not really donned my old lifes apparel since I saved female plant creature on the operating table.
    Relatives: Parents? Brothers? Sisters? Sons? Daughters? Aunts? Uncles? Cousins? None that I know of, though I would like to think that they might be out there in the vastness.
    Pets: My old lifestyle and new have not allowed such amenities, but perhaps one day I may have a creature to keep domestically.

    Wow, that was fun. :p Though it is nothing new to me considering I came up with the tormented bio-engineered female to begin with. None the less, this list is a good point of reference for aiding in fleshing out your characters.

    Kudos @Scot , you have a good point of reference sheet there. +15 points for coming up with something freaking amazing. :superidea:
     
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  7. Terathorn
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    Terathorn Member

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    This is my process. Forgive the formatting loss. The spacing irregularities are atrocious.

    ~Tera
     

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  8. Ann-Russell
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    Ann-Russell Member

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    I've never been big on writing detailed character profiles--I find them tedious. But after watching Jenna Moreci's video on believable characters I started using the technique described in this video, with a little tweaking to suit my needs.


    Something I hadn't really thought of until watching the video was defining the character's role. Not the character's role in the story (i.e protag, antag), but the role that other characters see them as filling, such as leader, fighter, class-clown, etc. For me, this was a new way of viewing my characters and forced me to see them through other characters' eyes rather than through the eyes of a writer and has helped me create character's with more depth.
     
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  9. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    That helped me a lot too :)

    In my Urban Fantasy WIP

    my POV protagonist Alec is a huge Dungeons&Dragons nerd. When he, his best friend Amy, and her brother Jason join up with an up-and-coming drug dealer named Charlie, Alec primarily thinks of them in terms of their Alignments:

    Alec is Lawful Evil = he does whatever his friends tell him to do, no matter who gets hurt who's not on his short-list of friends

    Amy is Chaotic Evil = you want her to do something, you'd better make it worth her while, power plays don't work

    Charlie is Neutral Evil = she just wants to get the job done, she doesn't care who's telling who to do what, she's more the boss because she's the loudest person in the group (metaphorically speaking: she doesn't actually talk nearly as much as Alec or Amy do, but she does tend to be the least flexible when she does have something to say) than because she cares about authority for it's own sake

    Jason is True Neutral = he's just a normal guy, not a sociopath like the rest of them, and they try to keep him insulated from the nastier bits of running a drug ring​

    When the group learns about the supernatural and starts dabbling in the arcane arts, Alec starts thinking of himself as the Rogue (attack/speed), Amy as the Fighter (attack/defense), and Charlie as the Cleric (defense/healing).

    Charlie herself is more concerned with practical concerns about what everybody's job is. She's a huge fan of Breaking Bad, so before they find out about magic, she thinks of herself and Jason as the two Walters (cooking up the product someplace where they can be alone to perfect their system) and the two Skylars (keeping the operation afloat by double-checking each other's expenses-to-income records) opposite Alec and Amy as the two Jesses (dabbling in the chemistry, but mostly focused on networking in the streets for customers and more scut-level employees).

    And I just realized that Amy doesn't have a system for categorizing herself and her friends the way the two of them do, so I will get on that and come up with something :D
     
  10. WingDingGaster
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    WingDingGaster Member

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    I was just wondering about this, particularly after a quick google search gave me this monstrosity. Sorry, but that just seems like a lot of information. Scot's list seems much more reasonable.
     
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  11. Spencer1990
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    Spencer1990 Contributing Member

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    Yeah, so, some people really like those big long character lists. They enjoy taking the time to fully realize their characters before writing the story. Personally, I find those lists a bore. I wouldn't waste my time coming up with so much potentially irrelevant information. I prefer to let my characters evolve to fit the story. Then, upon revision, if something isn't working, I'll go back and evaluate if I need to flesh out a character. Most of the time, though, I don't need to flesh out characters so extensively.
     
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  12. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I used to fill out character forms but a lot of the information didn't make it into my scenes. Or worse yet I found myself struggling to jam that information into my scenes. I found it too much like pre-deciding how someone is going to be on a journey. There's no flexibility to the environment and the character reactions wind up predictable.

    I keep my information light and usually in my head.
    If I was to fill out any form it might be -
    Name :
    Gender :
    Age :
    Occupation/situation : i.e. airline pilot/adventurer or student/witchhunter
    Goals - exterior and interior : this will usually be connected to the plot & character - say the exterior goal is to find Solomon's Temple and the inner goal is for him to reaffirm his faith.
    Attitude or perceived image : - this for me is just the generalized idea for your characters if you could sum them up - laidback, indifferent, bratty, quirky - etc. The idea is not to keep establishing this as a stereotype but to branch off from this base. My character is bratty but ... he's also kind and grudgingly giving.

    Your character will come to life more in scenes. When they can have opinions that contrast with another characters. When they fight for something they believe in when they're faced with obstacles. And that's not something that you can really work out in a character sheet.
     
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  13. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I don't do checklists. I start with just the characteristics that I need for the story. Just like you have to take time to get to know people, seeing how they react to things, feel about things, how generous they are (or aren't), so, too, you have to take time to get to know your characters.
     
  14. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    I don't do outlines or character sheets or anything like that, but I don't think you can ever have too much detail in your character, even in a short story. While I don't write out the character, I have a very good idea of who they are before I start writing. I'd say too much is when you can't stand doing your character sheet anymore because you want to start on the story.
     
  15. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    Well for an intimate look into your characters mind, I ripped this off my kindle and cut it just to the 500 questions to flesh out your character. Have fun. :p
     

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  16. Foxx
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    Foxx New Member

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    I focus on information relating to physical appearance and their goals. Honestly though I think you should spend a lot of time developing the character's back story. What was he or she doing before the start? How did they come to this point? What shaped their perceptions? What shaped their flaws? Their personality type comes out as I develop the backstory.
     
  17. etherealcalc
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    etherealcalc Member

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    I don't use any outlines, so I guess you could say I think having an outline of a character is too much. One reason I don't use any outlines is because I feel that that could restrict any possible changes in the future to the character, and also it'd be a pain to update since you already know in your head what the changes are.
     
  18. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    I use the (and I only found out recently that this is his, not Swain's) Alfred Hitchcock method of character development. I start with the story idea, figure out what the character needs to do and then give him/her the characteristics needed to carry that out. I don't bother with anything that doesn't need to be there to tell the story at hand. The only way I'll ever go so far as to figure out who the MC's third-grade gym teacher was is if said teacher comes back to haunt the MC during the story.
     
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  19. scriveningnerd
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    scriveningnerd New Member

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    Jenna Moreci gives great advice. She's helped me a lot within my writing process. She makes for an amazing teacher even though I am not really interested in the content that she writes.
     

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