1. Taylee91
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    Taylee91 Carpe Diem Contributor

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    Forming Characters: How Do You Do It?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Taylee91, Aug 17, 2010.

    So there have been discussions about whether character profile sheets are useful or not useful. Being a less seasoned writer, I like to use the sheets and then add more depth to my characters. But that is just me.

    How do you guys form characters? Is there another, more systematic path?

    Thanks.

    T
     
  2. MedleyMisty
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    MedleyMisty Member

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    My way is another path, but ain't nothing systematic about it.

    I just start writing, and I find the characters in the writing. I find music for them and that tells me a lot about them, the kind of songs that fit them.

    I get a lot of insight from reading the comments of others on my work and replying to them. Like a long time ago, when I was writing the final act of the first story featuring the guy in my avatar - he was the antagonist then - a reader said that he was many things but a liar wasn't one of them. He was honest and would always tell the truth.

    Now he is the protagonist and many years younger, and on the latest chapter a reader commented on how straightforward he is. And so when two different readers saw that in him, at vastly different ages and when he was the antagonist and now when he's the protagonist - well, I reckon he is honest and straightforward. I didn't set out to write him like that. I don't do character profiles. But it came through because it is who he is. I just didn't consciously plan that.

    The closest I came to profiling was when I originally created the Valley characters in the Sims 3 game and gave them five personality traits and decided what they looked like and what clothes they would wear. I do recommend that if you're already into the game - it was very useful.
     
  3. erik martin
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    erik martin Contributing Member

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    Most of my characters are based on people I know, usually composites. But they can start from anywhere: a picture, a trait, a history, and then they will develop organically from there.
     
  4. Taylee91
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    Taylee91 Carpe Diem Contributor

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    Yeah. I try to form characters around people I know too. It's really the only other way I know to create characters besides just starting from scratch with a character profile sheet.
     
  5. KP Williams
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    KP Williams Contributing Member

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    I start out with a basic idea of what I want the character to be like. For instance, the most important character in the stories I'm working on now started out with a quick summary: "Eccentric and energetic, with a short temper." From there, I just start writing. Experimenting, seeing what I like and what I don't like. Over time, the character sort of molds him/herself into whatever form is best suited to him/her. It's not quick, but it produces a character I can be very well satisfied with.

    As for character sheets, I never use them. But sometimes I do forget little details about the characters or the story, a fact which can very easily lead to contradictions in my stories. So I've taken to dumping all of the important information I come up with into a Word document. This way, if I forget something, I have a reference. Not exactly the same thing, but close.
     
  6. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I let mine tell me who they are mostly. They feel seperate to me with their own lives lol
     
  7. Shinn
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    Shinn Banned

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    I write a short summary of the character, and it usually flows on from there. Sometimes, they tell me through the writing how they want to be portrayed.
     
  8. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    People differ. I have a background in acting, larps and improv theatre.My first way to find and develop character is to feel and imagine and try their body language.

    If the story needs let say 60 year old women. There is a huge difference between one standing tall like a stern teacher, and one with soft hands and easy smile and painting brush in hand. Just imagine them you can guess how they talk, where their background was from etc.

    If we ad a slightly trembling hands to both of them, the meaning we read into this differ. Etc.

    We all played pretend as kids. I would tell anyone working with character it might be worth a try to get up out of the chair and just move around the room as the character. To make facial expressions till you find the one the character might wear. And make gestures till you find some that fit the character. With or without a mirror.

    Working with your body starts all sort of unconscious and non-verbal processes in you imagination that might help form a clear image.

    Same way, browsing photos might help you find one that helps you give the character an appearance in you head.
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I begin with the requirements of the story. Does the character need to be young and inexperienced? Or perhaps need to be a seasoned leader? Or an ordinary Joe/Jane?

    Do I want a male or female character? Sometimes that's a fairly random choice, other times I have a solid purpose behind the choice. My main characters are pretty evenly divided between genders.

    I think of other characteristics I need for the story. A recent flash story needed my character to be on the short side, emphasizing the contrast between her and the eight foot tall aliens milling about her in the crowd.

    I think of people I've known who the characteristics I've come up with at that point remind me of, and begin to imagine who my character is. He or she may resemble the people I was reminded of, or I may deliberately take the character in a different direction.

    I then start working the character into my story framework in my head, until I can see him or her in my thoughts.

    Somewhere in there I come up with a name, which may or may not be subject to change. My short woman surrounded by tall aliens had a name before any other characteristic, because her name was essential to the story. But usually, names are very changeable.

    To this point, nothing is on paper. It's all in my head.

    When I have my key characters for the beginning of the story, I begin writing. My characters are still very loosely defined, and I prefer it that way. They become more substantial as the story shapes them.

    As the story grows, there may be details I create that need to be tracked, and that I cannot just glance back at the manuscript to remember them. For these, I take notes. No particular format, no templates, just a random note: His birthday is March 9, or she had a younger brother who died whan she was seven years old. Random stuff.

    Many stories never require I write down a single side note about a character. In many cases, I never know the character's hair color, or height, or fashion sense, because it isn't important.

    But I always know their voices.
     
  10. Taylee91
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    Taylee91 Carpe Diem Contributor

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    Thank you, Cogito.

    That is so true. You might not have a clear image of them in your head, but you always know their voices. That's what happens to me sometimes.

    And writing down notes at times, that's good too.

    I should try to start with a not clearly MC as well. That will let me see just how creative my mind is.

    T
     
  11. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    I think this sums up the way I approach my char development.
     
  12. Aeschylus
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    Aeschylus Contributing Member

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    I don't create a story to fit the characters; I create the characters to fit the story. If I know the story, then the characters will come naturally and fit the purpose that are required of them.
     
  13. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i never write anything via any 'system'... i simply write... my characters develop themselves, as they appear in the story and the plot progresses...

    i didn't start writing serious fiction till i was in my 40s and by then, i'd led such an eclectic life in so many out-of-the-ordinary places that i had plenty of both normal and oddball folks stashed away in my brain-bank, to draw from...
     
  14. nhope
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    nhope Contributing Member Reviewer

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    If I'm having trouble with a character or sometimes to start out I'll use a profile sheet. Usually, I name the character and dress her / him inside out. Then I see their faces, hair, body shape and stance. Then I make them walk, sit, stand, smile, frown, yell, run, eat, sleep, drink. That's when I realize one has a shoelace always untied, one always wears a cross pinned to her bra, one carries a lucky charm in his pocket, one talks to herself, etc.

    I have them interact with others, with animals, go into stores, drive, rent movies, to watch what they do, see how they behave. I delve into them because in order to represent them accurately, and to make sure they are able to carry out what they need to, I have to spend alot of time with them.

    I do this for the main and minor characters. The walk-ons are usually 1/2 - 3/4 page long. I have to really love them or really hate them for it to work.

    I always have a notebook with me and a book on writing, sometimes two. (I have a large purse for this reason.) These are with me everywhere; you never know when you'll see something you can use in a story. I have a 45 min drive to work and keep a tape recorder in my car because I'm most brilliant in the morning and will forget most of what I thought if I don't get it down right then. ;)

    Yeah, it takes time, but what else is there to think of?
     
  15. Shiba
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    Shiba New Member

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    I usually start with an occupation and a face, nationality or name, then I start writing. If I can just get the very basic idea of a character and start writing from there, they generally introduce themselves to me during the writing process.
     
  16. Taylee91
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    Taylee91 Carpe Diem Contributor

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    I just tried that same approach yesterday. It seemed to help. I think my problem is all the procrastinating I find myself in.
     
  17. ThomasRay
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    ThomasRay New Member

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    Sometimes, when I have a couple of characters who I'm trying to find voices for, I think of a funny, ridiculous or strange situation to put them in, and think about how each one of them would react differently.
     
  18. Unit7
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    Unit7 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Usually I get an idea or an image of the character doing something. So maybe its a female on a horse with a little boy. Then I start wondering who that girl is and her relations with the little boy. Then I start imagining that character going through something. So the character arrives at a small town. Depending on the situation I have her in, in this case protecting the boy, I imagine her dealing with the leader of that town. Is she 'Do as I say and we can live to see tomorrow' or maybe she is more of the type to be grateful and be more passive.

    I then think of the situation that character is in over and over again. Trying different things. Whichever feels 'right' for that character, is usually what sticks and continues on. I sometimes picture the character talking to various people and then I will wonder why that guy is staring at her necklace. Which then I explore. Is it of magical importance, sentimental, or did she buy it on a whim while passing through a major port city?

    Not only does this help me develop an idea for the actual story, but I also get an idea of who my character is. I may never do anything with that character in any of those situations. But whichever details about her that feel right are carried on to other works.

    Once I have a general idea like this. I start writing. Most of the time, haven't written anything in quite awhile actually. From the writing itself new details and hidden secrets about that character are revealed to me. If I tend to like it and it feels right I continue on. If I stumble upon a secret about the character I do not like I first reconsider it. I wonder why I don't like it and play around with it for a bit in my mind. Maybe the details about the history behind her necklace I don't like, but I can change it. Maybe its from an exlover, who ended up trying to kill her and she keeps it around as a reminder as to never be that vulnerable or that despite what she might think at times, she is just mortal.

    Most of the character fills out once I start writing about them. But I try and get a good idea of personality and such.

    But I love it when I am thinking about my characters or I am writing and they reveal something to me. I know it sounds silly. I am the writer and I have full control over them. But sometimes these revelations are considered 'set in stone' for me. That I can change anything I want except for those revelations. Otherwise the character just wouldn't feel right or complete.

    That is how I create my characters. Well sometimes I just start writing and the character develops that way. Sometimes I think on some characters longer then others and some I introduce on a pure whim and they end up being bigger then I would have ever thought.

    Also I bet this post was longer then it needed to be... oh well. :D
     
  19. Taylee91
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    Taylee91 Carpe Diem Contributor

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    Nah, it's perfect. You needed to really take the time to break down what you were saying. I do that too. You can't just write everthing concisely in a small post. Digesting what you think takes up space on the page.

    I try to form characters. But I tend to place them upon characters I've read or watched. It's really cliche. Other times I start to form them. But then I get so used them, that I can't change them. And they hinder my story.

    Does that happen to anyone else? What do you do? Start from scratch? That's almost like a death sentence to me.
     
  20. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't use any rational method for developing characters. For me, it kinda resembles the process of getting to know a stranger you meet by chance. If I find them fascinating in appearance and mannerism, I try to get to know them behind their shell, and it they don't lose their appeal and somehow fit into my story, I include them. The bigger a role they play, the more I get to know them. The main characters become part of myself, but at first they're always complete strangers.
     
  21. Motley
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    Motley Active Member

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    Me too. My characters show up in a room in the back of my head (it has a gray rug and black couches and a red door) and tell me their story. Sometimes I have to interrogate them to make them give me more information to make them come alive on the page, but they usually respond well to my methods.
     
  22. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    LoL cos I am writing in first person mine kind of take over my body and start typing:) Thats how my first person present tense started they started talking to me in the back of their heads:)
     
  23. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    I just let them come to me. The story, the characters, just focusing usually brings them to me and they slowly develop and become real people. My head just like makes them and it's often not something I have significant control over. They just come to me. :p
     
  24. ThomasRay
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    ThomasRay New Member

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    A lot of the time I start out by thinking of characters or people I already know, that fit the needs of the story I'm writing (unless I don't have a story and am just imagining new characters for fun). I then try to think of ways to make my version of this character unique, ways to make him/her stand out.
     
  25. Acer
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    Acer Member

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    I have used profile sheets, if only to help me have a starting point. More often than not they mutate away from it as the story develops, but at least there was an idea to start with. Unfortunately for me, I came to realise that I don't really have a varied range of characters- even if the characters in one book are different, I know of several other characters I've written in other books that seem to share a lot of character traits and inter-character dynamics. I'm sure a psychiatrist could write an essay on it lol
     

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