1. SquareOne
    Offline

    SquareOne New Member

    Joined:
    May 8, 2016
    Messages:
    2
    Likes Received:
    0

    Fleshing out your characters

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by SquareOne, Jul 7, 2016.

    Hi! I'm curious about hearing your methods of fleshing out your characters' pasts,habits etc.
    The reasons I'm asking this is just that I'm struggling to find a way that can work for me.When I sit down and just think,I'm stuck.

    Then ideas come out pouring when I go to sleep (not just about characters,but scenes,dialogues...).I'm hoping that by reading many ways(or just tips and advice) I may find one which could work. Thanks :)
     
  2. Megs33
    Offline

    Megs33 Member

    Joined:
    Jul 7, 2016
    Messages:
    48
    Likes Received:
    33
    Location:
    Flagstaff, Arizona
    I've just started doing this myself! I think what's been working best for me is when I stop allowing my mind to tell me I'm stuck, if that makes sense. I tend to get hung up on some little detail or silly sounding situation, and my brain's knee-jerk reaction is to treat that as a wall I'm supposed to turn away from. Whenever I catch myself getting stuck (usually because I think that what I'm coming up with is dumb), I tell myself to write it down anyways because there's no such thing as a bad idea. And even if it IS bad, it could be a catalyst to a newer better idea later when you come back to it. Writing it down gets it out of your head and frees up your synapses to spark something even better!

    Personally, I bounce around a lot with my thoughts. If i sat down and said "I'm going to spend the next hour writing about "x" character, I'd fail miserably. I have a working word doc that's currently comprised of 15 separate pages, each page a different component (character traits, story line ideas, specific situations, etc). One minute I might be writing about my character's back story, and then I get an idea for a funny dialogue he might be having with a friend during a specific moment in my story. Then that might springboard in to a realization about his personality and the way he might react to something else.

    I have a pipe dream that I'll find time to sit in a park or in some random crowded public place to just look at people and think about how their quirks and appearances might shape the characters I want to bring to life, too. Sometimes nothing shapes your characters quite like just escaping your own head for a while.

    Right now I'm trying to view it like a fun challenging game. I'm a voyeur looking in on this person's life and slowly peeling back the layers to learn about them little by little. I've 100% never done this before, so I don't know how long it will take for me to be satisfied with the process, but I have a feeling I won't be getting bored anytime soon. :)
     
    Sal Boxford and Simpson17866 like this.
  3. deadrats
    Offline

    deadrats Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 7, 2016
    Messages:
    628
    Likes Received:
    291
    I've had to go back and flesh out characters. Sometimes it's hard to get them fully formed on the first go. What's helped me is to open a new document and write a few paragraphs that can later be dropped in throughout the story. One paragraph of description. One paragraph of why he was late for work. It was because his mother called. A paragraph of how he feels about his mother. And so on. I find it easier to do this outside the story even when I have a could idea of where these paragraphs might go. I never use all off them, but quite a few do make it into the story.
     
  4. Megs33
    Offline

    Megs33 Member

    Joined:
    Jul 7, 2016
    Messages:
    48
    Likes Received:
    33
    Location:
    Flagstaff, Arizona
    I need to do something like that... I always feel so much more compelled to keep reading when i learn about the character through gradual and natural references than when the character or narrator spends two pages giving a giant boring life-story speech. I've been trying to write random bullet points about my characters with the hope that I'll remember to input them here and there without getting repetitive or random.
     
  5. ddavidv
    Offline

    ddavidv Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Sep 2, 2013
    Messages:
    353
    Likes Received:
    239
    Location:
    Pennsylvania, USA
    I don't do this for every character but as a beginning writer I found it quite helpful. Here is an example of a Character Chart (I refer to them as questionnaires); there are many different ones available free on the web: http://www.epiguide.com/ep101/writing/charchart.html

    I don't answer every question and I certainly don't use every answer in my writing. A lot of the info never needs be shared with the reader but it will help paint a more complete picture of your character(s). One thing that is interesting is that after having completed the exercise and begun writing I rarely feel the need to refer back to it. The act of coming up with the answers is usually enough mental exercise to gain a complete picture of my character, and I build upon it from there.
     
    Megs33 and Simpson17866 like this.
  6. Simpson17866
    Offline

    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 23, 2013
    Messages:
    1,702
    Likes Received:
    1,251
    Welcome to the site!

    The two most important things that I do when just starting out with a new character for the first time are

    1) Categorizing the character according to some profiling system with several components so that you can compare/contrast the character with yourself: my favorites are MyersBriggs types and Dungeons&Dragons alignment

    Where are you from 100% I (Introverted, asocial) to 100% E (Extraverted, social)
    Where are you from 100% N (iNtuitive, abstracting) to 100% S (Sensing, concrete)
    Where are you from 100% T (Thinking, insensitive) to 100% F (Feeling, sensitive)
    Where are you from 100% P (Perceiving, disorganized) to 100% J (Judging, organized)
    Where are you from 100% Lawful (authoritarian) to 50/50 Neutral to 100% Chaotic (anti-authoritarian)
    Where are you from 100% Good (moral) to 50/50 Neutral to 100% Evil (immoral)

    I for example am a Chaotic Neutral INTP, whereas the lead point-of-view protagonist of my new Urban Fantasy work in progress is a Lawful Evil ESFP. He and I are diametric opposites in basically every measure on these systems (I'm quiet and detached, he's loud and wants to be your best friend, I love theory, he loves application, I don't want to hurt anyone or to be told what to do, he would shoot you in the face if his best friend told him to do it), but we both share a tendency to bounce back and forth between one thing and another instead of focusing on just one thing at a time.

    2) Categorizing the other characters according to the same systems ;) so that you can compare and contrast them with each other:

    My character's best friend is a Chaotic Evil ESFJ, their boss is a Neutral Evil ISTJ, and a vampire slash bank-robbery rival that they run afoul of is a Chaotic Evil INTJ.

    The vampire and my protagonist are basically diametric opposites, except for the fact that they're both homicidal sociopaths (although my protagonist would still try to be more "polite" about it unless explicitly ordered not to be. Or if you hurt his feelings).

    The character on this list that I personally am the most similar to would have to be the vampire because we both want to be left alone to come up with my own ideas for what I want my life to mean. Again, except for the fact that I'm not a literally-bloodthirsty murderer and she is. She's also a lot interested in focusing on one thing at a time than I am.

    My protagonist's boss and the vampire are also extremely similar in terms of their cold-blooded, ruthlessness efficiency, but the vampire is also more philosophically committed to the concept of self-determination, whereas the human crime boss is much more pragmatic about just getting by and making a living.
     
  7. Jeff Countryman
    Offline

    Jeff Countryman Living the dream Supporter

    Joined:
    Aug 28, 2015
    Messages:
    142
    Likes Received:
    79
    Location:
    Canada
    For character traits I like to initially write down names of friends and mix up their various traits: My mother's know-it-all attitude put into my friend Roger who is a minister, my brother's stubborn streak into my mentor who has three sets of twins, my best friend's need for endless selfies into my sister who can't boil water without messing up the kitchen. From there, I mix and match until I find something I think will make a reader will take notice of more than your average joe. Then, I hunt for a pic on the net and use it to come up with physical traits. I write a short story (about 2,000 words) about the background.....and call it done.

    My favourite part of writing is creating characters, but always aware that too much info is bad - infer and let the reader fill in the blanks seems to be what I like reading, so try to emulate no matter how much they will never 'see' the Chippendale Stud I created in my mind :)
     
  8. Auger
    Offline

    Auger Senior Member

    Joined:
    May 4, 2016
    Messages:
    115
    Likes Received:
    142
    Location:
    20,000 lightyears under the sea
    I found that developing a character's views on politics helps render the rest of their personality. Labels like good, evil, or polite are too vague and only work if the entire world operates by a single person's perspective.
     
    hawls likes this.
  9. hawls
    Offline

    hawls Active Member

    Joined:
    May 24, 2016
    Messages:
    186
    Likes Received:
    198
    Location:
    Melbourne
    Views, Values, Lesson.

    I expand on this in the thread, How much of your plot do you know before you begin?

    tl:dr

    Views: social/political/religious views
    Values: what's important to your character
    Lesson: the lesson they will learn, good or bad, by the end of the book

    The idea is that rather keeping track of facts and histories, this method provides a creative foundation to keep your character consistent while you work through your story.
     
    RahnyJae likes this.
  10. BWriter
    Offline

    BWriter Member

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2016
    Messages:
    73
    Likes Received:
    34
    I have only written short stories so far and I am only using 2 or 3 characters at most usually but I always start with what they want and why they want it. Once I know their motivations it gives me an idea of the type of person they are and then I can add the details that bring them to life. One thing I don't like when reading is a giant introduction for a character. I don't need to know every detail right away, if the same information is given over time it feels as though the character is growing as you are reading and I fill in some gaps myself.
     
  11. Sack-a-Doo!
    Offline

    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 7, 2015
    Messages:
    2,231
    Likes Received:
    1,511
    Location:
    [unspecified]
    Being fundamentally lazy, I do as little as possible, just enough to bring the character to life. It's something I picked up from Swain's Techniques of the Selling Writer. I recently found out he wrote another book just on character building (Creating Characters: How to Build Story People) and bought it. I'm about half-way through and it seems to be saying more or less the same thing as his first book, but more in depth. But since I got it for $0.43 on Amazon (plus $6 shipping) I figure: what the hell.
     
  12. deadrats
    Offline

    deadrats Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 7, 2016
    Messages:
    628
    Likes Received:
    291
    Writing short stories is a huge deal and accomplishment. You don't have to say only. You write short stories. Short stories are my favorite thing to write and to read. I rather publish my short stories in some of the great literary journals than ever sell a novel. I agree that you should release character info as the story goes on and not all at once. That's what I was trying to get at in my post earlier.

    Back to short stories -- don't be afraid of having too many characters. I love a heavily populated short story. But two or three characters can work too.
     
    Sal Boxford and Simpson17866 like this.
  13. BWriter
    Offline

    BWriter Member

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2016
    Messages:
    73
    Likes Received:
    34
    I didn't mean only short stories in terms of their worth. I meant that the ones I have read and written don't tend to have that many characters. I love short stories and think they are perfect for the modern age when every one seems to want things as fast as they can.
    Does it get difficult to juggle the characters when you have lots. Only using 2-3 has meant its been pretty easy keeping track of their personality traits, I imagine that gets harder the more you add. I'll have to work up to it slowly haha
     
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2016
    Simpson17866 likes this.
  14. deadrats
    Offline

    deadrats Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 7, 2016
    Messages:
    628
    Likes Received:
    291
    I don't find having a lot of characters is a short story to be too difficult. I read an interview with an editor once that said short stories tend to be under populated. Ever since then I've been playing around with just how many characters I can have and still pull off a good story. The last story I wrote had two main characters, three characters with lesser roles and and five other characters that get mentioned or show up in a flash back. And I think it could be the best short story I have ever written. Maybe. It needs a little polishing and a better title, but I like it a lot. The story I wrote before that one had six main characters (pretty much all given equal weight), and four other characters that aren't in the present scene but get mentioned or show up in a flashback sort of way. That one was a little tricky. I had to go through it a few times to make sure all the characters were developed and unique. The thing was with that story I really wanted it to be about a group of people. I felt like I needed six of them to have it actually feel like a group. I am going to workshop that story with my writing group, but I did show it to one of my old professors who thought it might get picked up sooner than some of my other stories. We'll see. It's not easy to sell short stories. FYI -- All my stories tend to be between 3,000 and 5,000 words.
     
  15. BWriter
    Offline

    BWriter Member

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2016
    Messages:
    73
    Likes Received:
    34
    I never thought about having to few characters. That is something to think about. That word count makes me feel better about my average as well. I'm studying for a degree and all the word limits are around 1000 and the same goes for most magazines I have looked into for the future. I have found it hard to tell most of my stories in under 2000.
     
  16. deadrats
    Offline

    deadrats Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 7, 2016
    Messages:
    628
    Likes Received:
    291
    Most literary journals and magazines want stories between 3,000 and 5,ooo words. That's why I write to that length. I've sort of trained myself to write to that length. One thousand words or less is flash fiction. While there is a market for those really short stories, it's not common to see a story that length in the places I want to publish.
     
  17. peachalulu
    Offline

    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    May 20, 2012
    Messages:
    3,821
    Likes Received:
    2,379
    Location:
    occasionally Oz , mainly Canada
    I come up with a stereotype or type and work away from it. For instance my mc is a bit of a brat. I let him do bratty things but that's not just who he is ( it's his behavior ) The idea is not to design everything to uphold that image as that to me would be a trope and a one-note character but to slowly show other sides of him and to give him goals, motivations, and a background that helps to shed some sympathetic light on his disturbing behavior.
    So basically I'm thinking backwards - result first - good guy, brat, creep - and reason - why the background. How did they get this way? What are their other sides - what do they long to be? I also need a good catalyst to set them off - usually another character - for instance the brat has an overbearing mother. And the mother is overbearing because her son is a brat. It's a vicious circle.
     
  18. Sal Boxford
    Offline

    Sal Boxford Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 12, 2016
    Messages:
    312
    Likes Received:
    228
    Location:
    UK
    I'm still figuring this out.

    Yup. I have plenty of half-populated character charts floating about in word docs. Good intentions. And I've since written more about those same characters, forgetting the character charts and completely contradicting them.

    I do this too, but usually with people whose biographies I've read. And, inevitably, cliché of clichés, they'll get some aspect of my past or character too. I've not managed to avoid it yet.

    We did one exercise on a course I did recently that was very revealing so far as how others read your characters. (Don't know if people have ever done something similar here...?) We each wrote a description of a character (physicality, history, views, etc.) and then we were paired up to write a meeting between our character and someone else's. In some ways I felt like my writing partner had seriously missed what *I* thought my character was about, but other things she wrote, I thought, 'Actually, that works, I didn't know that about her.'
     
  19. mrwillis
    Offline

    mrwillis New Member

    Joined:
    Jul 14, 2016
    Messages:
    3
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    UK
    I almost went through a whole pad of post-it-notes, brainstorming different characteristics for main characters on each one and sticking them around the characters name. I used a Google list of over 200 personality traits and the descriptions to flesh out my characters. This way, it made the whole process considerably more enjoyable because you can swap some around if one didn't feel right for that particular character. Also, it gives you a physical reference to fall back on when you're stuck trying to write speech or describe characters thoughts etc.

    Don't think I'll do that for physical descriptions etc mind, that'll come down to pure imagination!!
     
  20. Ziggy.
    Offline

    Ziggy. Member

    Joined:
    May 20, 2012
    Messages:
    65
    Likes Received:
    55
    Location:
    You make the moon our mirrorball.
    I hate those kind of things that link people towards introversion or extroversion. Or asking your character a shitload of questions or compiling huge bibles of information on your characters. When fleshing out your characters, Dwight Swain gets it right. I know a lot of advocates here say his information is genius, and it is, really. He doesn't bog you down with mumbo jumbo. He simply tells you what makes good characterization. Check out Techniques of a selling writer and Creating Characters: How to build story people. Both of them are by Dwight Swain. Beyond that, here's what I do.

    I'll write a few tidbits on characters about their personality; a few traits, their name and how they look. I might add some tidbits about how I want their arc to go and then I'll add more and more if I need to if I feel like I don't have their character to go. But allow me to give you a really simple piece of advice. Don't overthink.

    You think you aren't fleshing out your characters enough but have a general idea of what you want them to be and just write. Write badly and then finish your badly written story and then rewrite. Rewriting the the core thing here and many famous authors will tell you; King, Leonard, even Hemingway. Rewriting is where you put more into tightening prose, adding in things to improve characterization, and removing parts that are completely dead. But you're writing the entire time, and not pre-planning things and cutting writing time short. This improves your skill of it and then next time you're writing more and cutting out less. If you read both those books by Dwight Swain, your understanding of character will be greater so you can focus much more on story.
     
  21. Sparrow Kuhn
    Offline

    Sparrow Kuhn Member

    Joined:
    Jun 16, 2016
    Messages:
    25
    Likes Received:
    11
    I tend to categorize real people by their mannerisms - do they wring their hands? When they walk, which part of their foot hits the ground first? How far do they open their mouth to talk? What about to laugh? Because of this, I like to do things the same way for my characters - first I imagine their posturing of themselves, and then I use that to learn things about them like whether they're more nervous or reserved. Of course that only works when I've already gotten started with the character, but it's still a fun way to get to know them better.
     
  22. Commandante Lemming
    Offline

    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 8, 2014
    Messages:
    1,241
    Likes Received:
    1,000
    Yeah this is really about how much you feel want to know about them and what you feel gives you that. There are all sorts of methods - questionnaires, mentally "interviewing" your characters (I wish I could do that one). Everyone has something different so it's about finding what works for you. Mine is weird in that I spend a lot of time building a character's childhood and sometimes family history - for me it's all about knowing what situation forged their personality and then filtering their current experiences through the lessons they've learned in their past experiences. I don't know if I'll ever write a flashback about my main character's grandfather fleeing Samothrace in Greece after the Greek Civil War - but I know that's there, and I know a little bit about how that forged a very tight-knit Greek-American family that settled in North Wisconsin rather than the bigger cities which have larger Greek diasporas, and why that family still owns the same diner three generations later. Most people aren't going to know that - but for me it works - and I use that to inform what the granddaughter does after she leaves Wisconsin for a big TV news job in DC.
     
    Simpson17866 likes this.

Share This Page