1. Fife
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    Fife Senior Member

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    Is there a Technique You Use?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Fife, Nov 20, 2012.

    I could have sworn that, once upon a time, I heard someone mention some authors use cards to jot down certain details for character development throughout their day--for some odd reason the cards had some significance to this technique that I cannot remember. I was probably inebriated or having a PTSD flashback at the moment! I don't really remember any details about it, but the important thing is that it probably was a technique someone used.

    Are there any practical techniques for developing characters that you use?
     
  2. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I sometimes make notes as they occur to me on a notepad. The downside to this technique is that I often have several notepads in different places - a couple in my briefcase, a couple at home, one at work - so when it comes time to actually get something down in a more concrete format, like a planning notebook or a WORD document, I end up relying on memory anyway. The only thing I will say in defense of this method is that the mere act of writing something down seems to cement it somewhere in my mind, even if I am not later conscious of it. I have on several occasions written something that I was sure I had just thought of, only to later find it scribbled down somewhere.
     
  3. divided_crown
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    divided_crown Member

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    I make notes on my iPhone, but that's just the tool. As for technique: most character details and traits come from things I observe on the bus, train or street - tiny details about people around me, or just things I come up with based on their manners and appearances. It took a while to get used to actually looking at people (which few people do, interestingly) and noting down the right impressions, but it works really well to fill in the gaps between "high concept" and narrative description of each character. It's not just appearances, either - pretty much anything I can think up or hear people talk about finds its way into my note"book".

    [Disclaimer: actually observing people does not mean 'staring at them with your mouth half open looking like a halfwit pervert'. Obvious, but I felt the need to add that :D ]
     
  4. Fife
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    Fife Senior Member

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    Thanks for the advice, Ed and divided_crown. I heard about "people watching" but wasn't sure if that was something a lot of people actually did. My wife told me once that she saw Nicholas Sparks at a cafe in North Carolina just sitting there by himself, looking at people. I guess it makes sense.
     
  5. xhawkeyex
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    xhawkeyex Member

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    Something I like to do is to write down as many personality traits on a note card. These could be things such as Fast Runner, Charismatic, Dexterity, High Intelligence, Multiple Personalities, and many many more. Then I take another card and write down my character information with name, hair, skin, eyes, gender, friends, foes. I then use my own system of selecting traits from the card. I usually have 3 traits per character, maybe four. This way I can make my characters more realistic, define a profession, and not make them overpowered. Another thing I do is that since I have a character with MPD, I write down the Multiple Personality Trait, Choose two traits per personality, and one more overall trait for all personalities. Also, the personality change isn't as dramatic as television makes it seem.
     
  6. evelon
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    evelon Active Member

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    I use index cards to record as many details about my characters as I can. It helps me get to know them. And it's easy to reference, particularly physical details, without having to trawl through an ms to see what you've written before. Saves you having a blonde blue eyed bombshell in the first chapter and a green eyed brunette in the last!
     
  7. popsprocket
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    popsprocket Member

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    I like to build characters around their defining flaw. It doesn't work for minor characters, but for characters who receive a lot of screen time, it has been an invaluable method.

    The logic is that I've met a lot of people in my life who are defined by their single greatest flaw. Whether it simply affects everything about how they behave, or they build a persona that is designed to hide their flaw.

    So I take my characters and decide what a good critical flaw is that will clash with my major plot points and then see where my character goes from there.

    Minor characters tend to be built around something that I want them to embody in the story.
     
  8. Ian J.
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    Ian J. Active Member

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    If I'm really on the ball, I create character profiles in word documents. There are sections for physical appearance, mental state, likes/dislikes, history, family history, etc. I don't always use every element from the profiles in the story as characters can develop and morph as the story is told, but they help to provide ideas and keep consistency while the development and writing is underway.
     
  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    no... i'm sure enough of who and what my characters are either before i start, or as i write them... they develop along with the story, which just flows out as i'm writing...
     
  10. alcarty
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    alcarty Member

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    I have discovered odd notes in various jacket pockets with scribbled bits of ideas on them. Some I remember right away and a few have kept me up at night. Some I finally put together as being from the early days of my military life. They turned out to be stories, some published, some not. I have found that spontaneous is much better than planned, for me. If I was a carpenter I could not build a house, it would be a mess. I can't follow plans. Whatever small successes I have had as a writer have come from dribs and drabs of memory and putting words on paper quickly. REWRITING, however...is another matter.
     
  11. principessar16
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    principessar16 New Member

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    A friend and I used to fill out those personality quizzes that float around the internet for our characters. That helped define traits that might never show up in a story but helped us understand who they were as people. I also like to draw my characters -- just a sketch, to help define how they look and dress.
     
  12. MilesTro
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    MilesTro Active Member

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    I just write their names on my plot list so I can remember who they are.
     
  13. DDNeal
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    DDNeal Member

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    I start a wikipedia like notebook. Who are the characters, where are the places, etc, etc.

    As to the actual characters I start with MBTI and then try and think about how people I know that are that type would act, think, react.
     
  14. MindTheGap
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    MindTheGap Member

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    I keep Word documents for each of my characters and type down anything I think of for them- appearance, personality, likes/dislikes, etc. Then I try to categorise it based on like elements, such as the ones I listed above.
     
  15. Em_Anders
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    Em_Anders Member

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    Each character I have has their own Composition notebook. If they are peripheral characters, some get grouped into a notebook with another. But for my main characters, the ones that take up more of my energy and imagination, they get their own notebooks. The pages though... They are organized chaos. I can't really begin to describe them without confusing someone... I number the pages and if I have a thought that interferes with the thought I'm currently writing, I'll go to the next clean page and write it down, then go back, and some thoughts/ideas/concepts skip pages so everything has a "Go to pg#..." noted at the top somewhere. If anyone were to read these notebooks they'd probably think I've lost my marbles.
     
  16. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    I used to do "character cards" with notes on the person right down to their birthday and other peripherally "interesting" but not necessarily pertinent information. Then I decided it was just getting in the way of getting to know the characters. It's sort of like those online 'dating services'. "Hi! My name's Krystal. I have blonde hair. I'm 5'6" tall. I like puppies and kittens. I jog every morning and am a strict vegan. I am looking for someone with similar interests."

    That doesn't tell you a whole lot about "Krystal". It's just a lot of superficial 'bits'. I discovered that the most interesting things about the characters are those things that pop up unexpected as you write. "I didn't know he played Pop Warner football when he was a kid!" "She used to be a model??? Ah! She gained all the weight when she broke her hip when she was on that skiing trip ..." So, I stopped keeping a journal on characters and just 'got to know them better'. And, with the exception of the purely tertiary characters, I can sit down and discuss any of my characters at will and on the spur of the moment.
    Because I know them. I know them just like I know my family and my 3D friends and even better than the guy next door. I have an intimate relationship with these people and they are as real to me as anyone in my 3D world. Needless to say, I stopped using 'cue cards' a long, long time ago.
     
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  17. Thumpalumpacus
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    Thumpalumpacus Contributing Member

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    I've never kept notes on characters. I guess I cheat in that I associate a character with someone I've known in real life, and my writing is an exercise in putting known people into unknown situations. But because I already know them, I don't work up character sheets or that stuff. A strong character has already told me who he or she is.
     
  18. turnermate
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    turnermate New Member

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    Character cards is a good idea, but I create Character Development profiles. It helps build the integrity (literary) of the character and keep's his profile more watertight.

    I compare it to actually associating with this character and being able to actively implement who I intent him to really be, directly into my plot and settings.
     
  19. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The only character notes I normally need consist of the manuscript itself. Occasionally, I may jot down a detail or two that wouldn't be easily remembered (like a birthday) in a text file, along with other random story notes. It's never a large file.
     
  20. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    My technique for developing character is letting the story write itself.
     
  21. MJRace
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    MJRace New Member

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    I can see I’m not alone here; I use the notepad on my smart phone. Although most of my characters come about by people-watching.
     
  22. chewbur
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    chewbur New Member

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    I let my characters develop around their interactions with each other. Most of the little things about them are ideas that pop into my head while writing the story. Some of them are based off people who stand out in my life, or a blend of a bunch of people's personalities including my own.
     
  23. Carthonn
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    Carthonn Active Member

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    At the end of my word documents I usually have a section for notes. Often I'll list out characters and write a very brief summary. When I think of things to add I'll email them to myself or write them down on paper. I usually put "Idea Ideas" in the subject of the email so I can search for them. Once I get to my home computer I'll paste those emails into the document or type up the notes.
     
  24. GoldenGhost
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    GoldenGhost Contributing Member

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    As for character notes, I don't take them either. I may have a general idea of what kind of character it's going to be, which is usually vague at best, since my skill is not yet so refined, and take off from there. I like the idea of keeping the possibilities open, the idea of letting the story itself shape the character, instead of placing pre-determined limits on how they can act. Possibility leads to surprise, and your kind character may end up really being an asshole at heart.

    But, as for notes in general, I do keep a very small pocket-journal, which I jot down ideas, prompts, snippets of conversation that are open ended and can have events inserted before and after, or during, sentences I come up with, or metaphors and cliches and similies, ones I like, ones I know of already, or ones I come up with on my own (or at least, think I do ;P ), songs that catch my attention and how they made me feel at that moment... things like that..

    Then I go back through them and compile a list of metaphors, ideas, prompts, and sentences/phrases I've created and see if any of them spark a story, can be used in a story, or what-have-you.

    I often find myself coming up with sentences that don't really have a place, whether in a current story, or at the time I jotted them down, only to find out later down the road they magically have a home.
     
  25. mg357
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    mg357 Active Member

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    I have a favorite actress that i base all my leading ladies on and i have a favorite actor i base all my leading men on.
     

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