1. Reed R Gale
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    Reed R Gale Member

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    How I like to Make a Character

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Reed R Gale, Mar 31, 2013.

    Since I can't post a story yet (for very good reasons), I'll try and root myself here by showing the template I use and ask for some feedback on it.

    Intent of the template: I want to make a very quick window into a character before I make a story. I have an idea of what I want them to be and so I use this template to get my ideas out. It is made to be a place to start for a character so they can develop while I write.

    Name:
    Age:
    Priority Levels (From most to least important): {Friends, Work, Self, Family, Religion}
    Quick Backstory:
    Drives (What is their motives?):
    Character Traits:
    Relations to other characters:

    I'll try and explain how this works. Normally, I'll try not to name a character 'til the end, but I will put an age in. I've taken out gender because I really won't forget that.

    The priority levels isn't actually something to use for the character in the end: it's something I use to understand the character on a very, very low level. It helps me lay the framework for the bones of the character. Then usually, I move into character traits which allows me to start to flesh out the character.

    For others' understanding:

    Friends: People that the character considers intimate, which can include anybody, except, in my opinion, a deity, unless they are actually another character in my story. Basically, characters in the story that are intimate with the character.

    Family: Blood-related kinsmen or adoptive kinsmen.

    Work: Their life-work or their job, all depends on what that character is like.

    Self: Their own well-being and ideals.

    Religion: I regularly opt out of this one, because this is religion in a purely theological sense of the word. Many times, I just avoid characters having a religion, but if they do, it's good to know how important it is to them.

    Then comes backstory and drive. Depending on the story, I'll go with one or the other first. Sometimes, I need them to have a certain drive. Sometimes, they need a certain history. Whichever they need is what I start with.

    Then the most important one (to me at least). Relations to other characters. This is particularly important when I have complex webs of other characters. It helps me keep track of who knows who, and how they feel about them. In many cases it forces me to think about how the two would interact. I always try to write these as if I were the character.

    And that's what I have. Comments?
     
  2. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Some thoughts:

    - Most people have more than one drive or motive in life, so requiring exactly one would tend to oversimplify the character. Yes, it's possible that the character will have one primary motive in relation to your story, but the character doesn't know that they're in your story. :)

    - Similarly, most people are likely to have tangled priorities, instead of a neat tidy list.

    - And the list of priorities is rather neat and short - what does Self mean? Luxury and self-indulgence? Self-improvement? Learning? Does Family refer to relatives or one's spouse? Does Religion always mean organized religion, or does it refer to one's entire philosophical and spiritual outlook? What's the dividing line between Friends and Family? Does Work refer entirely to one's paid job, or the perhaps unpaid work that one would like to accomplish, such as writing a novel or developing a new dahlia cultivar?

    I'm not trying to beat up your profile. But I think that profiles in general have the risk of simplifying a character.
     
  3. Reed R Gale
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    Reed R Gale Member

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    Yeah. I understand that, and usually, these grow as they grow as a character. Drives, yeah, I can see what you mean. You even gave me ideas of lining up the drives and seeing, if they conflicted, which would come out on top.

    The other stuff, family versus friends, work, religion versus philosophy and the like, is all already defined for me, so that's true advice that I took from another person a while back.

    And you're right. A profile is a GREAT way to oversimplify a character; but you need to start somewhere. Well, I do, anyway. :p And a good way to do that is to line everything up. But seriously, thanks for the response.
     
  4. Xatron
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    Xatron Contributing Member

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    I believe that creating a character profile before you start writing severely limits that character in your story as you try more to fit the story to the character and less the character to the story.
     
  5. AVCortez
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    AVCortez Active Member

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    Agree.

    I just write my story, to stop conflicting description I take notes as I go.

    ... There are four "character profile threads" on the first page of this forum.
     
  6. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    If I picked up the right tone to this, then my sentiments exactly.
     
  7. Reed R Gale
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    Reed R Gale Member

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    Ehehe. I see many people are against this style, so I want to ask why?


    What I'm want to say in my fevered defense of my idea is that creating a character profile can limit the character. What I've found, is that a profile gives me a good general idea for a character, a big skeleton that holds all the things I know about a character I've created, and their social framework together. And if you let the over-generalization rule over the character, then yes, they will be bland and limited.

    But a profile can evolve with the character rather than being static. If I feel a character should act a certain way, then *zam* edit the profile. It's a management tool. An overgeneralization. A good place to start. Not a fix-all, "this is everything my character is," trap.

    It's up to the writer how they use the tool, and I choose to have this help me rather than hinder. Ahh, but I feel like I'm so heatedly trying to defend my method, I'm probably being quite biased. Thank you for the input.

    ***

    And to the two that have stated that there are four character profile threads, I'll say that it's because they help some people. If you don't believe they work, that's well and good, but if you don't want to give constructive criticism that will help this technique grow, then at least tell me why this doesn't work. Saying that it limits a character is all well and good, but how does it limit them? Why does it have to limit them?

    I think I addressed these topics in the explanation above.

    So, while a profile is supposed to be an oversimplification, it doesn't mean that they are completely without use. It's all about how people use them. And I'd like your bashing more if it helped me with something other than fueling my natural tendency to defend my methods.

    tl;dr

    So hit me where it hurts. How does profiling limit a character and how can I avoid that? If you think profiling is a bad idea, why?

    EDIT: I've been reading some other posts on this, and yeah, I can see where people get the idea that people feel a character profile has to cover EVERYTHING. And I even realized some fat I can cut out of my profile. Yes, I'm not likely to forget gender. Slash out! But ultimately, I really have to take Whitewolf's side on this.
     
  8. Nee
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    Nee Contributing Member

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    Well, seeing how my stories come from weeks of characters already interacting in my head before these impromptu gatherings form themselves into a few scenes which suggest a greater over-all story line than originally appeared there would be, I let the story and the characters grow together into the story I will eventually write. So...as I stated in another character thread:

    One of the hardest lessens I had to learn was to keep the descriptions of my characters as thin as possible while writing the first daft so to avoid closing off their possibilities before I really got to know them. Which grew to the point now where I don't even care if the character made it through the whole story without ever having their hair color described. If it didn't make a difference to the story, then it doesn't make a difference. People will automatically fill in those bits for themselves without even being aware that they did it.

    Add on: One of the ways to make the story come alive in the heads of your readers is to avoid contradicting the image they already formed in there without you having to do anything. Get inside your characters heads...but, stay out of your readers heads.
     
  9. MilesTro
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    MilesTro Active Member

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    I never start a character profile because it is time consuming. Just writing the character in the book is easier and faster. But staring with a character profile can get you started, until you decide to make some changes in your story.
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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  11. Reed R Gale
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    Reed R Gale Member

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    You're right. It was egotistical of me to veer into that topic when it's already been discussed many, many times. Then instead, can I use this thread to ask how I can improve my template and what traps I should avoid when using it?

    I already found out that I need to cut out needless details out of my profile, but are there more things that can be cut out?

    Also, I want to know if there's anything important I forgot that is important to character development. I promise that I will look through the other threads for some wisdom, but those questions are what I want answers to.
     
  12. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    Don't fill out or answer anything in your template until after you've written your first draft. By then you should know your character well enough to answer these.
     
  13. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    In another character profile thread, I mentioned a psychology experiment that somebody somewhere did sometime, that struck me as relevant. In the experiment, some people acted out an unexpected scene in front of some other people. Let's say, a man in a gorilla mask and a three-piece suit ran through waving two rubber duckies, and two people in polka-dot bathrobe pursued him waving Nerf bats. I don't actually remember what it was.

    Some of the witnesses to this scene were asked to write down what they saw. Others were not. Some time later, all of the witnesses were asked to describe what they saw. The witnesses that had written down what they saw remembered _less_ than the witnesses that had not.

    My interpretation from this is that summarizing a body of facts tends to simplify that body of facts in your mind, in a permanent way, and that that simplification takes away value. And I think that a character profile simplifies a character, and thus takes away some of their complexity and reality.

    Also, I think that people make no sense, and people are not consistent. Their motives are so crazy and tangled that you simply cannot make any _general_ assessment of what they'll do.

    A person might value their art (let's say they're a musician) above their work in the sense that they would get far more joy from success in their art than in increased success in their job. But that same person, if ordered to work overtime, might cancel their music gigs to comply. So then you say that, OK, they value security over their art. But then that person growls and grumbles and slacks off at work and gets fired. So apparently they don't value security all that much. Why did they allow themselves to be fired rather than quit? Maybe they wanted unemployment. Maybe they couldn't face the thought of being responsible for quitting but they could be quite content with being fired, because they can disclaim responsibility for that. Maybe maybe maybe.

    But if I said ahead of time, "Joe values his art above his job," then that whole interesting (at least to me) thicket of contradictory actions is unlikely to ever happen.

    I think that it's best to learn about your characters while they're walking through your story, rather than ahead of time.

    Edited to add: If for some reason I felt the need to do character profiles - perhaps if I were writing a novel with a cast of dozens of people and feared that I really would forget one - I would probably write them inside some fictional structure. I might write the profile as _the character_ would write it for a dating site, or for a resume, or in their About Me in their blog. Or I might write the paragraph that the character's mother would include about the character in the mother's annual Christmas letter. That way, I wouldn't be writing The Truth from some godlike authorial Olympus, but instead writing a human and therefore probably error-filled impression.
     
  14. ChrystinaTrulove-Reyes
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    ChrystinaTrulove-Reyes Member

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    I think that if you create a character sheet, it should be deeper than that, but I also believe that it may best serve if you leave it blank at first. Start the story and note anything that fits into the character sheet as you go. Do this for several characters, but don't get sidetracked by character creation. I keep finding myself knowing so much about my characters and wanting to write it down that I have not really started work on my books. I think it may work better if I let things flow naturally. Being organized can only do so much, or you end up spending your time doing the organization instead of the work.

    Cat
     
  15. Xatron
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    Xatron Contributing Member

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    Once again, when we say that character profiles severely limit the characters we don't mean that anyone who uses them will go that way, but 9 out of 10 will.
    When you write down a profile for your MC who is clearly a character you like/love, when the time comes that your story requires that profile to change for it to become better, you are more likely to stretch the story to fit the profile than alter the profile to fit the story. You end up consulting the profile sometimes before writing a scent so that the scene fits your character, when you should let the scene flow and then edit what needs editing.
     
  16. Reed R Gale
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    Reed R Gale Member

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    Yes, I'll keep this in mind as a way to avoid the trap. The idea is to make the two tools work together and I think that having a general idea with some small facts ready will not make me feel forced to flow a certain way with the story. And if, as Chickenfreak says, writing things down really makes it harder to remember the details, this idea that you've presented will make things work together much better.
     

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