1. shaylyn
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    shaylyn Member

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    Getting to know your characters

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by shaylyn, Jun 13, 2012.

    What are some things you do to get to know your characters and help them develop in your mind? I almost always have to find photos of what I imagine my characters would look like. I also go as far as start listening to music I think certain characters would listen to. Like I imagine one of my characters, Jack, would be really into Blindside.
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I put the character into the story. The story, and the reactions I choose for them for each situation, cause the characters to coalesce and come into focus.

    I do have a general notion of what I want each character to be like before I begin, but I don't obsess about it. I know approximately what they look like, and that gets clearer the more I work with them. I know the essential characterstics I want each character to have for the story, but I don't "interview" them or predefine their pasts.

    My primary objective is to keep them flexible and dynamic. That makes them more real to me than all the character sheets and role-playing that is popular with some other writers.
     
  3. shaylyn
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    shaylyn Member

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    interesting take :)
     
  4. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    I agree with Cog because that's what I do with my short stories' characters, but a more detailed knowledge of the characters' may be beneficial for a novel, at least for the sake of being better equipped to complete the novel. But I think i'll end up doing the way I do in my short stories when I do write my first novel.
     
  5. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Sometimes my characters come to me fully formed. But when they don't, I like to write little scenes involving them, just to put them into situations and watch them get out of them. These little scenes force me to create my characters in detail. Usually, of course, none of these little scenes make it into the final story, because that's not what they're intended for, but often they spur my imagination to come up with new ideas that do make the final story, and make it better.
     
  6. ithestargazer
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    ithestargazer Active Member

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    Like minstrel, I like to write little scenes for my characters where they might not necessarily interact with the MC. I find you can gain some insight on how to write them in the context of your story if you know them outside of it. I usually might only write a paragraph or two of them doing something simple. Sometimes I might even use some of the stuff in my book though it's more of a fun exercise. I don't write my character's back stories before I write either. I find they usually come out naturally throughout the book.
     
  7. shaylyn
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    shaylyn Member

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    I tend to do that too, minstrel. I don't usually write them down but I'll take situations in my life and try to figure out how my characters would react if in my shoes.
     
  8. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I read in a writing book once an exercise about developing characters. The book was used in a writing seminar I took and the teacher really liked this exercise -- it was a huge list of questions (maybe 50) that you needed to answer about the character. They were things that at first glance, wouldn't necessarily give you much information about the character, but if you think about them more, you get an idea about how your character thinks, what's important to him and what his background is, which all influence his character. They were things like:
    Character's full name
    Family background
    education
    job he has
    job he wants
    marital status
    car he drives
    favorite food
    where he goes on vacation
    books he reads
    color hair/eyes
    height
    what his home looks like
    what clothes he typically wears
    favorite hobby
    what he watches on television

    You could make up more questions and answer them. I like doing this, because it causes me to really think about the character. Even if I don't mention most of it in the story, just knowing the answers informs me how the character would react or think about certain situations. Sometimes figuring out the 'why' behind some of the answers can make for interesting background or scenes to put into the story. Sometimes you can also discover characters have something in common that you might not have realized.
     
  9. Show
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    I spend time with them. Simple as that. ;) I don't "interview" them as much as just talk to them. It works pretty well for me, I think.
     
  10. growingpains
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    growingpains Member

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    I also really like looking at pictures - of clothing and of people, to get an image of them in my mind. Another thing I do is look online for writing prompts and then write them into short scenarios to see how they'd react in certain situations. That's how I get to know them. Then I put them into my plot and take it from there. Sometimes if they're meant to interact with another character, I'll write them together in a scenario that doesn't happen in my novel. Like, they might not visit a store together in my novel so that's the kind of scenario I'd write. I actually like doing that. Even though these scenarios and scenes will never be included in my novel (and shouldn't, really) I still like writing them. It's good practice regardless of the writing being used beyond character development.
     
  11. kyelena2
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    kyelena2 Member

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    There was a list of questions that I used for my main characters, that included things such as: Do you have any tattoos or scars, how did you get them? Where did you grow up, Think about your childhood kitchen, who is in it and what do you see and smell, what meaning do they have to you?
    I found writing the answers very helpful for each of the characters, gave me more background to work with.
     
  12. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Cogito said it best - not to obsess about what they look like or worry too much about filling out a lot of character forms. Although I think for novels , dates and distant relatives especially should be worked out and set aside somewhere, just to ensure consistency.


    I made endless character forms, ( I read too many junky novels as a kid ) and my characters remained rather rigid , not really reacting to the action going on around them. They were more like magnetic dolls on a colorform backdrop. Lately I've been thrusting my characters into a scene , forcing them to react. I write in snippets - broken scenes that have to be pieced together. And I don't really get too chummy with my characters as I'm sure they'll try to manipulate their outcome in the story. Two characters were supposed to be killed off in a first story draft - weasel their way up to the top - one overtook the main character spot the other , got a more juicy role!
    Now I like to give my character a trait , an interest , a habit , something I don't like, to keep them at a distance.
     
  13. Mokrie Dela
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    Mokrie Dela Member

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    This is perhaps the most difficult step.

    One thing i do, and ive done it since i was a kid, is similar to method acting. I pretend to be that character and pretend to have a conversation with someone. If i'm writing the story, i'll act out a scene as that character. Looks i touch on - i try to hint at it, as if you're too specific the reader may be put off; you introduce the character as dark haired, the reader may picture him with stubble, busy eyebrows, tall or stocky. If you then keep adding more details, the reader will have to adjust the image of him in their mind, and that wont be good imo.

    I also know of people writing dossiers on their characters. Before the write the story they write the characters' complete biography, even detailing their romances and family. Knowing every aspect of your character is important, so that when a situation arises, you dont think what they would do, they react naturaly, almost subconsciously.

    Quirks (is that spelt right) help. I for example absolutely hate those scooter things kids are always riding around on atm. It's completely random, but that's what people are really. I also feel it's important to have a big weakness, because the character's only human after all, they can't be perfect.

    Also if the character's based on someone, then there's traits you can import, so to speak, or change. A friend of mine likes warhammer, and the character that i made that was loosely based on him liked warhammer too. He was a former SAS Sniper, now working as an assassin, and in his spare time, he played with toy soldiers.
     
  14. Lady Amalthea
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    Lady Amalthea Member

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    I like to keep character sheets. I find them helpful. That doesn't mean, of course, that what the character sheet says is final. Characters are dynamic and they change as the story is being written -- unless the character is meant to be static. But if I don't write a character sheet (complete with sketches and/or drawings) I feel like something is missing.

    I also do a lot of roleplaying. Something that helps me develop a character's mannerisms, language and overall psychological traits is having him/her answer a few questions: "So, how are you today?", "What did you do last night?" and "Am I annoying you with my questions?"

    It's the RPG player in me, I guess.
     
  15. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    I "talk" to them in my mind. Or "watch" them play out scenes.
     
  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    In one way, I think RPGs is one of the best things for writing, because it has inspired many people to pick up the pen, who never would have done so otherwise.

    But in another sense, I think RPGing has been one of the worse things to happen to writing, because it has encouraged so many fledgling writers fall in love with character sheets.

    Character sheets are a boon to RPG, because they set boundaries on behavior so the DM can rule, "Sorry, but that move goes against character for Flangebrow." But a character is not a collection of fixed attributes. Who gives a crap if Shilleen has a tattoo on her right butt cheek? And listing her as having a volatile temper does not mean she will fly off the handle every time someone looks at her the wrong way.

    Character sheets lead to rigid thinking and inflexibility about characters, in my opinion. Try to create and manage a character some time WITHOUT hanging a couple dozen adjectives on him or her, WITHOUT compiling a check list, and see how it works for your writing.
     
  17. Ch0ck0b3ar
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    Ch0ck0b3ar New Member

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    Wow this is a good question. I sort of see scenes as a movie in my head. As the story moves along I try to keep imaging more scenes from the "movie," and sometimes I get a "no that sounds stupid" reaction from my gut. Sort of like if you watched Batman just straight up murder a criminal. You think "batman doesn't do that."
     
  18. Mokrie Dela
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    Mokrie Dela Member

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    Same here, though I imagine it as a video game - in the sense that instead of me seeing it, I can interact and make choices, if you get me.
     
  19. Show
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    Pretty much the same thing here. Only I have a small degree of control over said movie. (Sometimes)
     
  20. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I find writing their memories or past life events is helpful - writing them out in scenes. Based on these scenes, decide some major character traits - solidify these traits into words such as: confident, fearful, shy - but don't determine exactly how the character will act according to these words. Simply let the words be in your head, and whatever you interpret as "shy" or "confident" or "guilty" or "pretentious" will flow into your dialogue and the way you write them.

    But I can't do bios and questions and "interviews" - questions like "What's your favourite food?" or "He's tall with wavy blonde hair and loves to swim" - that is awkward for me, I've never been able to do this. It feels static, like I'm just making it up (which of course, I am) - but what I mean is, these traits never stick because they're not part of the character for me, I forget them promptly and I can't engage with them at all.

    I also have no idea how to "talk" to my characters - many people on here talk about that - I'd just end up talking to myself.
     
  21. HKayG
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    HKayG New Member

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    Ok, this is going to sound completely bizarre. I do character sheets because i always find it helps me from straying to far from the character and helps me define each character without them melting into one personality for all.

    Then i make them into sims. I find it really focuses the main attributes/detriments of the character. It puts it down to 5 traits and then you can just expand from there. It's a border line but it still leaves room for expansion.
     
  22. Mokrie Dela
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    Mokrie Dela Member

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    I also find it important to establish their backstory, their past etc - with some characters it's that which defines them, life events change their character in one way or another. I get that established then approach the story with an already built character
     
  23. Three
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    Three Member

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    Oh gosh. EVERYTHING. Listening to music they like, finding actors to play them, having conversations with them all the time, asking them for their opinions and advice (Mr. Cain and Laurelai Mariner-Collins give the best advice. John Goodwin gives the worst.). I interview them, draw them, inquire into their childhood, etc. Those long pre-set interviews and personality quizzes are kind of fun, but usualy only after I've gotten a better handle on the character in question. The often don't teach me much, but there is some merit to them. If I hadn't taken one that asked “Do you have any pets” I would never have known of my magician's never ending epoch of dying pigions.

    Works for me too. :) Whenever I'm bored, wherever I am, I inevitably imagine one of them (at least) sitting beside me, commenting on everything that's happening.

    I do exactly this. A lot of the writing I do is by “channeling” characters. Easier for some than others. Music helps, not being preoccupied helps, and there are little things I do for each character. One is a tea drinker, so I like to make myself a cup to coax him out. Another is a heavy smoker, so I always have a pack of candy cigarettes on hand.

    It's funny, some characters “channel” very easily, and all I have to do is ask to develop them more. Others are a lot more withdrawn, and take longer to coax into speaking to me. It just takes time. :)

    My characters come to me way WAY before I ever have a plot for them. Very often I'll think they're completely developed before I know what to do with them. And then I start writing the story. And they prove me wrong. :p I've had one character for more than five years now, and he still suprises me.

    It takes patience and practice, but it's more than worth it. :) There's a book out there by Julia Cameron on how to talk to your characters, and probably more if you're interested. It's a lot of fun, and makes writing so much easier. :p
     
  24. Public
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    It never hurts to base your character off of someone you know or have met in the past. Or even someone from another book/movie/tv show you've seen and just make changes to that character from there to make it your own.
     
  25. Vision Maker
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    Vision Maker New Member

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    For me my story is never written in stone, it changes over time. I see sceans as though I am seeing them from a movie in the future.

    I let the story make it self happen on its own, then interaction of the characters handeling different situations begins to shape and mold the characters over time.
     

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