1. Zaphina
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    Zaphina Member

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    How do you get to know your characters?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Zaphina, Apr 3, 2014.

    I don't know if you really need 100 questions to get to know your characters (I've been trying out with a character questionnaire and to be honest I feel I already knew what I've been writing).
    So what I wondered is how do you get to know your characters? Do they sometimes do things which surprise you or do you know every little thing that they will do? I am just picking up on a novella I started a while ago and tweeking it a little (the characters included - developing them etc.)
    I guess I'm curious as to how everyone else does it really!
     
  2. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I don't know much about them at the start of the story - just gender, age, and occupation. Sometimes names are even up in the air. I get to know them when I start writing, when characters can play off each other and or react in a scene.

    I usually give them a small problem to start with, and go through their reactions which helps solidify who that character is in my mind. For my Nanowrite project, I started with twins Phineas and Orman age 28. Orman is ill in the opening pages with a mysterious fever. I could've left Phineas as just worried but he came out being both worried and annoyed with the chore of playing nursemaid. And Orman though ill complicates things because he's feeling trapped having to count on a brother he's angry at so he purposely makes taking care of him harder.
     
  3. Michael Collins
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    Michael Collins Contributing Member

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    I don't think that I "get to know" them. I create them, I pretty much already know everything I need to know about them.
    How could my character ever do anything to surprise me?
    same as I don't understand how many people give their character perks, traits and description that serve no purpose to the story, like why would I need to know that vanilla is his favourite ice cream flavour, if there's no ice cream in my story?

    Makes no sense to me.
     
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  4. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I stay away from character sheets and things like them. I don't find them helpful.

    Usually, characters just pop into my head, more or less fully formed. Be aware that your story, if it's a real story that's important to your character, will change the character. The character will go through an arc as the story progresses, and will be a somewhat different person at the end than he was at the beginning. So if the character feels a bit squishy to you when you begin writing, that's okay. :)

    When I feel like I don't know enough about the character to begin writing the story, I just write little scenes involving him. These scenes don't usually wind up as part of the story; they're there to teach me about him and his world so that I can get a better handle on who he is and what drives him. After a throwaway scene or two, I know him enough. It's much more useful to me to actually put the character in a situation and write the scene than it is to answer 100 questions about him.
     
  5. Zaphina
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    Zaphina Member

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    Yes I agree, although I find them quite fun I also think it was something I enjoyed when I was 15. There is almost no point in them and I get quite bored after a while and begin to wonder what the point is. The whole point of my story is that they change through it, as it is about a life changing event. I think having a character as pretty malleable is a good thing although I am trying to avoid the stereotypes with my family (ie. the slightly cheeky father and the more sensible mother). However I also recognise that this happens fairly frequently in life too (I know of a few personal examples). I wonder whether having a better idea of a character beforehand helps to avoid bringing in these stereotypes (unless they are just my stereotypes!)
    What do you guys think?
     
  6. Michael Collins
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    Michael Collins Contributing Member

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    Stereotypes are always born from a foundation of truth, and as far as your example goes (cheeky father, sensible mother) my family is the same, so why can't a fictional family be the same?
    As long as you don't fall in the "Englishman, Scotsman and Irishman walk into a bar" kind of stereotypes, I think you are good to go.
     
  7. criticalsexualmass
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    criticalsexualmass Active Member

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    Some stories start because of the character, some stories get started because of the story and characters have to be crafted. It depends on your style. If you are a planner, your timeline and outline and short works that lead up to the final story should flesh this out pretty well. If you are a seat-of-the-pantser then your character will begin to bloom in the zero draft and by the time you've done draft 10 or 12 will probably be living and breathing on his or her own. It's like everything else in writing, getting to know your character is going to be a personal voyage for you. Enjoy the ride
     
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  8. Zaphina
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    Zaphina Member

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    I agree, it should be believable and therefore based around life, also relatable too and I think a lot of people can relate to this as it does happen fairly often. Thanks for putting my mind at rest!

    As for being super organised or super spontaneous and working everything out after I don't think I'm either! I hate rewriting and having to do multiple drafts (although realise it's necessary but please bear with me as this is the first story I'm really intending on finishing). Thank you though! I think it will be a journey to figure out their 3-dimensional selves as currently I think they are a little 2-dimensional.

    Just out of interest, are you guys experienced writers or fairly inexperienced? In that, have you written a few stories or tried and given up (like me). As you can probably tell I'm fairly inexperienced but always had a passion to write.
     
  9. Michael Collins
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    Michael Collins Contributing Member

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    Alas, I'm far from experienced. Take my words as mere opinions, rather than as "molten gold" (as they would say in Italy).
     
  10. Zaphina
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    Zaphina Member

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    I think all responses to this question are opinions really; each writing style differs. I am very interested in everyone else's ideas and ways as it gives me a little more to think about!
     
  11. Jak of Hearts
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    Jak of Hearts Member

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    One trick I love that I learned from a creative writing professor: Write a series of "he's the kind of person that..." Write it out several times and fill it in for a character. You'd be surprised at the things you come up with that help you flesh out their quirks and personalities. For example, one of my MC's that I used I did this for and here is a partial list I came up with:

    He's the kind of person that smokes his cigarettes until he tastes the filter.
    He's the kind of person that puts cream in his soda.
    He's the kind of person that keeps a picture of all of his ex girlfriends.
    He's the kind of person that wears his father's 30 year old leather coat.

    A lot of the stuff, kind of like those 100 question character sheets, will never be used in the story. I really think that they give you a much more 3D view of the character and helps you delve down deep into who and why they are.
     
  12. FrankieWuh
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    FrankieWuh Active Member

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    I ask them on them on a date. :D

    No, really, I do! In my head that is. I live with these characters for a little while before I put pen to paper, but then, as in life, I get to know their quirks, their histories, their feelings, politics etc, as I go along. Even if you feel you need to be controlling of your plot, it's better not to control your characters. For me, anyway, it feels more natural if they do do something that's surprising but ultimately in keeping with their character.

    In my current WIP my major characters have gone from being two dimensional to three over the space of two drafts because I live with them constantly. In the next draft, they will go from being three dimensional to people I have known very well for quite some time. I will be able to describe every tick, predict every reaction, every mistake that they make, but they can surprise the hell out of me even then.

    Some writers prefer to do that from the very first draft.
    I like to be surprised as I go along through the editing process too. It's more fun for me that way.
     
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  13. Zaphina
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    Zaphina Member

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    It's interesting to see how different people do it, and actually hearing how you all do it gives me more of an idea of how I get to know them. I think I can relate to the way you do FrankieWuh, it'll definitely be a developing thing for me. Interesting to learn that some people are very organised and some prefer to just go straight in. Also out of interest what does WIP stand for?
     
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2014
  14. Daba
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    Daba Member

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    In my honest opinion, the best and most memorable characters that a writer can create are part of him/herself. Part of that life experience that many writers forget to use. In that case you really don't need a questionnaire, just a good look inside your head and perhaps a little bit of argument with those bastards we like to call memories.

    In plenty occasions my characters had actually helped me discover something new about myself. Most times it would be something sick, that I didn't really need to know :D
     
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  15. Zaphina
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    Zaphina Member

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    I like that perspective on it Daba, and actually I think you speak some sort of truth there! Considering I'm currently writing a story where all my characters have some sort of mental health issue not really sure what this says about me...
     
  16. FrankieWuh
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    FrankieWuh Active Member

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    Sorry about that - for someone who hates acronyms, I still use them! WIP stands for "work in progress" :)
     
  17. FrankieWuh
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    FrankieWuh Active Member

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    It can also stand for "writer is procrastinating", which is what I'm doing right now ;)
     
  18. Zaphina
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    Zaphina Member

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    Haha too many acronyms! Thanks ;)
     
  19. novemberjuliet
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    novemberjuliet Member

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    My characters tend to mature with the story. Sometimes I won't reveal much about them until it becomes important to the plot or reveal just enough in dialogue and through their actions.To me it's no fun to have a character drawn up 100% before my story is complete :p
     
  20. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    So what I wondered is how do you get to know your characters?

    ...i pretty much know them before i start writing about them...

    Do they sometimes do things which surprise you or do you know every little thing that they will do

    ...i'm doing the writing, so nothing they do can surprise me... that said, i may at times have someone do something i hadn't had in mind before then, that comes about due to the progression of the plot...
     
  21. novemberjuliet
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    novemberjuliet Member

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    I guess I never really do get to know them. I just have them change where appropriate in the plot and I won't know how they end up until I've finished the story. I still have numerous WIPs so that pretty much means I haven't truly gotten to know any of mine, just where I might want them to go.
     
  22. Zaphina
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    Zaphina Member

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    So you know your characters before writing, but how is it you get to know them? Do you do all the getting to know them in your head, are they an extension of yourself or do you write character sheets?

    I think that's what I meant by surprise, that a character does something that you wouldn't have expected at the beginning when you created them. To me that would be a bit of a surprise although I guess it's never a real surprise as we know exactly what they'll do and when cause we tell them to!

    novemberjuliet - I think the more I'm getting into this the more I'm thinking it's best for me to do similar really! Haha.
     
  23. ddavidv
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    ddavidv Contributing Member

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    I actually did a character questionnaire for the first time with my current project. It helped in several ways. For example, my character needs to explain where she comes from and some of her past history. Writing this out in advance keeps me from stopping mid-stride and having to figure it out. I needed her to come from a small town in Ohio, and I wanted to describe it accurately. I actually spent time on Google Earth looking at several until I found one that 'fit'. From there, I was able to fill in some of her history, and when I needed a location for a photo of her to have been taken, I simply looked up the closest park. It places my fictional character in a 'real' place. That's just one example, but it helps keep things consistent also (who her parents are, does she smoke or not, what kind of music she likes). I may only use 10% of what I 'invent', but I find it makes writing easier. Don't sweat answering every single question on those things, because you need not know every little detail about a character to tell your story.

    Do they evolve as you write? Most certainly. My girl Brianna originally was conceived as a shy, somewhat dismal and not-very-talkative character. Halfway through the book, she is actually only slightly reserved, mouthy, profane, talkative and has a short temper. The story made her that; trying to fit my original vision of her into it would have resulted in a story different than the one I'm telling. She's now less 'pathetic' and, I think, far more interesting in the evolved version. While we get to play God with character creation, sometimes they will modify themselves into something else.
     
  24. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ...i don't waste time with character sheets... i know who i want to appear in the story before and as i write it... some may be extensions of myself, others of people i've known... many are spring full-grown from my imagination...

    ...right!... all we write comes from our own minds, so we are in control of all that happens to the people we have created, thus nothing can really be a 'surprise'...
     
  25. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wouldn't go that far. If I don't have an idea at 5:05, and then I do have an idea at 5:06, then it doesn't matter to me that I came up with it instead of hearing it from somebody else: that idea is going to surprise me because I hadn't thought of it before.
     
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