1. Gholin
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    Gholin Member

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    How do you pre-plan your characters?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Gholin, Jul 24, 2013.

    So, I was thinking I might be going overboard (Or even winging it too much in some cases) with the importance of pre-planning my characters, so I was wondering how everyone else develops their characters. Do you like detailing a lot of backstory? How about Character Arcs? Relationships? How far do you go before you write your story?

    I often find my characters are nebulous, and I can't quite pin down them down to something fleshed out. When I finish a short story, the characters actually turn out pretty well, but I don't put a lot of thought into them and they develop as I write. For my novel, I feel like if I don't go overboard on detailing them, they will suck, but I can't seem to flesh them out too deep, given my seat-of-the-pants style of writing.
     
  2. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    My characters develop as I write them. I start with either a very basic almost stereotypical character and almost immediately endow them with some quality (qualities) from real people I know. After that, what they do, say, think - all comes from what's happening around them and "intuition".
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    How do you pre-plan your characters? Minimally.
     
  4. huntsman40
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    huntsman40 Active Member

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    My process is similar to this. I don't plot out my characters too much, as I've found this to be pointless to a degree, given that I find they change and evolve as I write their interactions with other characters.

    I do plan out some of their back story so that I know who they relate to in the book, what they do in life and what their general personality is like, but other than that I don't tend to go too deep in case I make a cast iron character that I'm to stubborn to change even when the story flow steers them that way.

    Does depend on the character though to be honest. Some characters I do no planning at all other than make up a name and write. Makes for some interesting characters sometimes doing this.
     
  5. ManOrAstroMan
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    ManOrAstroMan Magical Space Detective Contributor

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    A lot of it depends on what's goingto be included in the story. My background is art and comic books, so I tend to begin visually, typically sketching the character out before I do much writing on them. Usually, elements of their personality come out in the drawing, in their clothes and expression, etc. Often, I find myself basing their appearance on someone I know, or on a celebrity. This mental casting helps inform their voice, manner of speech, etc--but not always.
    A lot of details get made up on the spot, unless it's a major character trait or something in their past which effects the present.
     
  6. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't. They show up when needed and I get to know them by spending time with them.
     
  7. AVCortez
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    AVCortez Active Member

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    I'm the same as liz but a lot of minor characters in my WIP have thorough back stories, because I write a lot of shorts.
     
  8. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I always start with a couple of characters, envision scenes between them, get the way they look, speak and act firmly in my head before writing ANYTHING down. Usually by then I have the bare bones of a plot in mind along with setting. Then I write the scenes I've envisioned, see how this feels.

    After that, other characters just 'come in.' And I'm away!

    The only thing I write down into notebooks ABOUT my characters are dates and other concrete facts about them. These all find their way into my timeline, which I establish early on, filling in details as I write them into my story.

    I don't sit down and think these "facts"up ahead of time. I simply write them down into my ongoing timeline as I write them into my story. These are the kinds of story facts that can trip you up, if you don't keep track of them.

    If you put your character in a certain place at a certain time, you need to remember it ...otherwise you can end up putting them somewhere else at the same time, or meeting somebody else who couldn't have been there because of something ELSE you wrote ...and before long, you've created a hairball of confusion you'll never unravel. Timeline solves this beautifully. Think of it as a calendar, into which you enter what's happening on a certain date, what's scheduled to happen during the month, etc.

    I never write things beforehand about my characters' personalities, or what they like for breakfast or stuff like that. These character traits come out as the story develops (and is what's fun about creating them.) I get to know my characters the way I would get to know real people ...by spending time with them.
     
  9. Harlequin~
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    Harlequin~ Banned

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    There is nothing wrong with that style of writing and sometimes does work out really well! In terms of fleshing them out perhaps don't think of it as a list or laying the ground work for who they are but about everything you listed above is a great way to play with them a bit and figure out what you want and don't want. The only thing I would warn about would be the backstories because while they are super help-full (I use that often) when you actually go to write the novel, don't make the mistake of forgetting that your audience doesn't know what you know about them.
    But above all of these techniques, sit down and think about what you are trying to accomplish with your writing (theme, message, event) and then decide what kind of people are going to be the best vessels to deliver whatever it is you are going for, to your audience.
     
  10. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Novel is a much longer commitment, with a plot equivalent of at least 15 short stories, so it's understandable it's more difficult to pull off successfully. I do plan my characters in detail, plot and storyline too, so by the time I start writing, I know them quite well as people.

    It's very important to me that my readers care about my characters, and the feedback I am getting consistently is that the characters are very memorable and relatable, so that works for me.
     
  11. Youniquee
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    Youniquee (◡‿◡✿) Contributor

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    Hmm, I drew them, then did few things about the backstory, their personality ect...I made up the character arcs as I wrote, really. The characters kinda developed by themselves and changed significantly over time..
     
  12. Keitsumah
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    Keitsumah The Dream-Walker Contributor

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    I have a similar method to this. I just get a general idea of what "type" of character they should be. Then fleshing out the little details comes later. First, i think of a basic concept. Wisdom, Guilt, Silence, Timidity, those sorts of things. I flesh out my characters based on those concepts. It influences their decisions and reactions to the events of the story, but then you have to be fairly flexible to let the story go as it takes you. Have an end in mind, but anything in between should be a grey haze other than the biggest events leading up to the end.

    Overall, I would not suggest this to anyone who couldn't conceive of being so loose with their characters or story. Your method is your own, and this is only an example of how i create my characters.
     
  13. feathers and fangs
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    feathers and fangs New Member

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    By the time I begin outlining the plot of my story, I already have a basic concept of the characters involved. I know their personalities, how they talk, what they think, how they act - all sorts of similar stuff to that. The only things I place in my notebook are basics: physical appearance, past, concrete details, etc. I don't like including things like "ultimate goals" because some characters don't have "goals," they just go along with the events in the story.

    I don't agree with the 8 page, incredibly strict character sheets. I've Googled for hours before trying to find the perfect character sheet that wouldn't be too long or too short, and eventually ended up creating one myself that provided me with just enough info, but not too much. I think if you're too loose with your character you don't know them well enough to truly understand their actions. Then again, some people prefer writing that way.
     
  14. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Like many have mentioned here, I too have a basic idea, mostly what I want to say with this character, I want to know why I'm writing him/her. Then I think of stuff I'm a) interested in b) know through-and-through and add them as extra characteristics (occupation, hobbies, etc.). In the end, after I'm almost done with the story, I know my characters pretty well, but they evolve as the story goes on. I only write novel-length stories (with my husband), so it kinda requires a lot of characterization.

    :confused:
     
  15. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    I (usually) write down their basic features and personality, the role they have for the story, and possibly previous important events in their lives and how it affected them. Once that's done, I learn more about them by writing the novel and seeing them in action.
     
  16. randomme1
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    randomme1 Member

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    I start by planning out what roles i need filled. MC, antag, supporting-yet-major characters. Things like that. Then, if the character is important enough, I plan out what brought them to where they are now. Why are they here, in the events in my story, instead of somewhere else in the world? Nothing too detailed, just a general sense. My MC, why is he hiding away in some far away city? My antag, why is he going around kidnapping people?

    That's about it, other times the characters are literally created on the spot and take off. I created a whole new plot-essential character five paragraphs into the first chapter of my story, didnt plan on her at all. Now, i have a blind girl who has attitude and will most likely get my MC killed or close to it. I created ANOTHER character during my second chapter. Then ANOTHER during my fourth chapter. In fact, I even came up with another sub-yet-major plotline because of that character. Just delve in with a general sense of what you want your character to be, and I mean GENERAL. I do believe that a lot of people here will agree that if you plan out too much then you are effectively putting on a pair of handcuffs.
     
  17. Steve Day
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    Steve Day Senior Member

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    First you create your plot, and then you hire folks to get the work done.

    Or you can do it Elmore Leonard's way- create the characters, and sit back and see what happens.

    A lion has escaped from the circus, and is terrorizing the town. How will Arnold Schwartzenegger deal with it? Or Woody Allen?
     
  18. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    My characters don't eve have concrete names till they've been around for 20,000 words. They change more than the weather. I'd imagine if you draw out your characters first and try to stick to it, you'll be far too rigid and it will probably reflect in your writing.
     
  19. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Same here, bro. All my stories start out with David, Eddie, Lisa, Karen, Paul, Michael and Michelle ;)

    My actors tend to show up in street clothes and I give them a scene or two in order to get a feel for them, then I send them to wardrobe. When they come back, I give them a copy of the script.
     
  20. Kelson
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    Kelson Member

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    Hello Gholin,

    I started my writing life as a screenwriter. I attended a performing arts school and took screenwriting courses at Northwestern University as well as English Lit at U.C. All of these courses and books hemmed me in by convincing me that I had to do character outlines along with essays written by my characters as "I inhabited them." I really got into this and put a great deal into it, walking about and acting my characters out. Guess where my screenwriting career went after numerous meetings & being contracted to write a couple of scripts--nowhere. I got discouraged after years of trying and gave up writing all together while working 50 hours weekly and getting my B.S./B.A.

    I returned to prose fiction about a year ago and found that the seat-of-the-pants technique works best for me. I find that I get a LOT more writing done just... writing. I also read "On Writing" by S. King and he supposedly ascribes to the same style stating, "The story is the boss..." e.g., allow the story and characters emerge as they want to be not what you try to pigeon hole them into. (Then again I have also read that King does do the character essays and keeps them in a binder for whenever he gets blocked so who knows?)

    I average about 1000 words daily despite work, my web site, teenage girls in school activities, etc. I do not hit that mark every day but I get a heck of a lot closer than I ever did with all that "prep work." You can judge for yourself whether or not it's working by web searching Kelson Hargis or Kelson's Challenge. All my stuff is free.

    My 2 cents anyway.

    ~Kelson
     
  21. azokka361
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    azokka361 New Member

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    My characters always start out in my head, usually when I'm reading a book. I "insert" them into the storyline, let them run around with the main characters for a while, and just watch them develop on their own. Eventually, they start eroding the storyline of the book to make it completely different, and I'm throwing in all sorts of random situations just to see how they will react. It can take weeks, and I feel that I truly get to know my character--even if it means that they start telling me what they're doing, rather than the other way around.
     
  22. Aprella
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    Aprella Senior Member

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    I like discovering my characters while writing. The current story I am working on, the first one that is really serious for me, is something I am writing with a co-author so we need to give each other insights about the characters. We wrote the whole story as something fun to do together and we never took it very serious. But now we decided to rewrite the whole thing in something that is hopefully good.
    We wrote the first version as a round-robin with hardly discussing anything and the characters developed while we write. For the rewrite we had decided to make character sheets so we both know what/why/where for all the characters. There is, however, one very complex character with a past that drives a lot of what he does, so I'm letting him talk about important things that have happened in his life and that influence his character.

    I like to get to know my character very well, but I want to leave room for them to grow or change as well.
     
  23. Gholin
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    Gholin Member

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    Ah. Thank you so much, Kelson! I am finding myself mired in details as well and going absolutely nowhere. I will take what you say and what my heart says, well, to heart. I write great short stories when I don't think so much and let it grow dynamically. So why not a novel? I know what I want to write and who my characters are. They've been talking to me so long it's driving me nuts. I gotta write them! I'm just gonna go minimal now. Make sure I know their goals and how they'll grow and I should be good. I already know their personalities and backstories! Thanks everyone for all your sage advice and for keeping this discussion going. The more we talk about writing, the more wisdom we all have about it.
     
  24. Nobadee
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    Nobadee New Member

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    I actually learned ideas about character development from Mark Twain's autobiography. He goes into detail early on about how he established the characters and locations in his books. Basically he just utilized people and places that he was familiar with in real life. See, before that I would have never conceived the idea of using real people as fictional characters; but, he made it work well enough.
     
  25. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    My characters are in a constant state of free-for-all. They're naked cave-men until I dress them, voice them, and set them on their goal.

    If I was to make out one of those character sheets he'd be constantly tapping me on the shoulder going - um, I'm not supposed
    to golf, I don't like golfing. He'd be calling all the shots. This way symbolism can spark naturally and things will fit together rather
    than be forced to go together.
     

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