1. painty
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    painty New Member

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    Newbie author

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by painty, Feb 21, 2015.

    Hi
    I am a fan of fiction - generally horror/thriller/post apocalyptic and after many years I have just started to write my own novel. I started last week just using Microsoft Word and leapt straight into writing my story as it entered my head. There was no planning or structure or anything. After 10 pages (approx 2500 words) I liked it. Then i started researching on how to write your first novel and realised there are a lot of things missing. I hadn't even thought of the importance of how to introduce characters or their development, location, backstory or even how the end might look!
    I have since started reading 'Structuring Your Novel' by K Weiland (very informative and useful guide) and downloaded Scrivener to help with layout/reviewing etc.

    The bit i am now struggling with is my characters and how to introduce them and develop them into people I (and any potential readers) will care about. How long do people generally spend on outlining their stories, working on their structure and make their characters believable and not boring?

    As this is my first attempt at writing a story there are going to be loads of pointers that will be gratefully received! Sorry if this is in the wrong forum. I know i have mentioned characters but this is really a general shout for help!

    Thanks
     
  2. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    There're different ways of going about writing a novel really. In general people tend to split into 2 camps, what we call "pansters" and "planners" - although of course there're those who fall in between these categories, and that's no cause for concern at all.

    Pansters are basically those who just write. They write and write and see what comes out. Usually they don't really know where the story is going themselves, or maybe they have some idea but nothing is really set in stone. They don't have a plan. They finish their drafts and then go back and polish it up, deleting parts that they realise aren't needed, adding parts they realise they need or want. This way usually results in a larger amount of rewriting and deleting, but is more spontaneous and can be especially helpful if sometimes you become so concerned with the quality of the work that you become blocked/stuck. It frees you up to do what you like with your story.

    Planners are as the name suggests - they plan before they start writing. Depending on what sort of planner you are, you may have a plot outline and then you're good to go, or you may have chapter by chapter outlines too, or massive details with background and history and world-building stuff. Even as planners though, there's still a heck of a lot of polishing, deleting, and rewriting to do. Sometimes you can run into the risk of wishing to stay close to the outline and forcing your story in a certain direction, which would damage the story. At the same time, having a more solid idea of where things would go can sometimes help you write because you know what you need to write. Some writers, however, find this to be a boring approach and the bordem that they feel prevents them from actually writing.

    At the end of the day, wherever it is on the panster-planner spectrum you fall, there's no escape from editing, rewriting, deleting, and rewriting some more :D The only thing that actually matters when it comes down to it is that you are able to finish your book. If the approach you've taken allows you to finish writing your novel, then horray and keep doing that.

    People usually advise that you should edit only once the first full draft is done (eg. story is completed), simply because the perfectionist in you could get you tinkering with the tiniest word and therefore never move forward, or perfecting a paragraph or a scene or chapter just to realise the whole chunk needs to be deleted.

    However, I personally find editing as you go along to be better, because I'm less discouraged at the end of the process. I'm not left with a complete mess of a manuscript knowing it needs loads of painstaking work. I edit in chunks, usually a scene at a time or a chapter at a time. This way when I'm done with the draft, I know it's at least readable, even though it still needs a lot of painstaking work.

    You will have to find out which approach works for you. There's no hard and fast way to finishing a novel really. Go with your gut instinct and try it, see how it goes. What matters is you keep writing, and you finish the novel you started/wanted :) Just how you manage that is entirely up to you. There are no rules in writing - except perhaps basic good grammar and spelling! - there're only guidelines. If you hear a piece of advice and thinks that sounds good, by all means try it out. If you find it's not working out for you, by all means ditch the piece of advice and find something else that works better for you. It's all just guidelines to help, not a rule or law you must never break. In fact, as you get more experienced, breaking the rules can be half the fun :D (but as a complete newbie it's probably better to stay with certain guidelines for certain things, you know, such as not switching character points of views unless you're an omniscient narrator)

    I think since you're just starting out, you need to explore and just have some fun writing first. I wouldn't worry so much about the technicalities just yet. The best way to learn is to read good novels and see how actual authors did it - sometimes you hear a good piece of advice but it's only applicable in certain situations, or used in certain ways, or for certain purposes, and the intricacies of all that can only be seen when you see the advice actually used in real writing. So read good books - you can start with books you've particularly enjoyed, maybe in the genre you wish to write in, and then gradualy branch out :) Study them and see what made them so good, note down little words and turns of phrases you particularly loved. Feel free to use ideas and reinvent things - that's not the same as copying. Don't copy. But look for ways you could reuse something good that you've seen in your own writing. In time, you'll develop your own style.

    For myself I started writing when I was 9 and back then I obviously wasn't concerned with all this stuff - didn't even know it all lol. Back then I just wrote and never looked back. Sure, all those stories I wrote should never see the light of day hahaha but they're not a waste of time. Everything I wrote got me to where I am today.

    So, here's a last piece of advice: don't be afraid to write crap :D Seriously. Not everything has to be perfect, and that's what editing and rewriting are for - to perfect a diamond in the rough. It's okay to write crap. It doesn't make you a bad writer - you're only a bad writer if you stop learning. As long as you're improving, enjoy everything you write. Don't take criticism personally and listen to critique. Remember there's a learning curve.

    Write some crap, and have fun doing it. That's probably honestly one of the best ways to learn.

    Oh and stick around on the forum - there's plenty of invaluable advice and seasoned writers on here :) and sometimes with writing, you just need a bit of encouragement to keep going. Welcome :D
     
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2015
  3. painty
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    painty New Member

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    Thank you very much for the reply. That has helped me a lot as I was concerned that jumping right in was wrong. Looks like i may fall somewhere in between the 2 types! I definitely think I need a basic structure / outline but for now i don't think i will get caught up too much with ticking the box of completing every 'pre-writing' step. Definitely a learning curve for me and like you say, i'll only find out what works for me if i get on and try it. If my book ends up being 20 pages long and i'm out of ideas then I think i'll need to revisit the planning stage! thanks for the advice, much appreciated :)
     
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  4. ddavidv
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    ddavidv Contributing Member

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    I'm probably somewhere in the middle though I lean more towards planning. If I don't at least write down a timeline I can get lost. Before I ever start writing I have at least a concept of what it is the story will be about and a few key 'scenes' in my head. I then put them in order and try to connect them with other scenes. All of this is written down in a fairly vague outline, though certain pieces of dialogue may be included as they come to me so I don't forget them.

    As I write in the present I don't need to concern myself with creating 'worlds'. I do a bit of research as I go about places, find photos of likely dwellings for my characters to live in and so on. This helps paint the picture in my head of where they are. I do take pains to accurately portray things I may know little about (like weapons or fighting) as I don't want to appear foolish to readers who are learned in such things.

    As for characters, I do try to write out a bit of background on them using a questionnaire I downloaded from someplace. I find creating a past for them and giving them quirks is fun. The real reason I started doing this is because I felt my MC's were often too similar, as if they were all from the same cookie cutter. Creating their backgrounds helped abate that.

    You may find your characters grow and evolve into something different than what you originally (thought you) wanted. I suggest letting them become who they want to be. I had one MC who turned into something vastly different than I intended and as a result she is far more interesting than the individual I set out to create.

    Good luck and don't criticize your efforts too much. Writing rubbish is always better than not writing at all!
     
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  5. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    I'm a pantster, with a hint of basic planner! (and a lot of research checking at the end) :)

    :rofl:
     
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  6. painty
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    painty New Member

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    Thank you! Yeah i think a basic timeline is definitely something i'll add in first then I can flesh out the story as i go along. I'll work on the main characters then crack on with the actual story again!
     
  7. Teviya Abramson
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    Teviya Abramson Member

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    I used to be a pantser, back when I was first starting to hone my craft writing really, really bad Pokémon fan fiction. :oops: I did actually manage to finish a story this way, but it was almost unreadable, and I keep it on my hard drive to remind myself how far I've come. I am now a firm planner, building my worlds and characters and planning out a basic plot-- until I get caught up in actually writing and end up taking a left turn at Albuquerque when I should've taken a right at St. Louis. :rolleyes: I guess my point is to find out what works best for you, but be open to the wrong turns you might make in the process. Sometimes they'll lead to something even better than you planned!
     
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  8. painty
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    painty New Member

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    Thank for your reply. I am planning my story now, starting with character sheets and then ill probably move onto other events that will appear later in the story as more hooks. I want a plan/outline but dont want to get into over thinking everything too much and end up not getting anything written down! :)
    Thanks
     
  9. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Sometimes people say you should "talk" to your character. I personally have no clue what that means btw :D I think it means that you should think about how your character would speak, and what your character would say, how they'd react in certain situations, according to who the character is.

    One of the ways to do this is to simply write your character in a scene - it could be a scene that will/might happen in your book, or it could be just a random scene. Say, your character's from a medieval fantasy world but for this exercise maybe you write how your character's gonna react/behave if he just got teleported to the 21st century :D Often this could help you get to know your character.

    A friend of mine looked for a song whose melody and lyrics matched her character's personality and story, and she sees it as her character's song and listens to it to get herself in the mood.
     
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  10. painty
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    painty New Member

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    Thanks. I like the idea of playing out a scene or discussion with the characters. One of my main characters i have got great ideas for and am liking him already but ironically my main protagonist needs ramping up as right now he is pretty drab! Ill go over the character sheet and give him a proper make over!
     
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  11. ddavidv
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    ddavidv Contributing Member

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    I read somewhere on the forum once a suggestion that you write an interview with your character. Ask them questions and write their answers as you believe they would respond. I've never tried it but it's an interesting exercise.

    I also have 'theme songs' for my stories. I may not have one when I begin the project but usually partway through I'll have a song (or two) that matches the mood for the book or scene I'm working on. I sort of envision the ending credits of my book if it were turned into a movie; what song would I select to 'sum up' the story? I also have used music to envision action scenes in a similar fashion. I sometimes wonder if I should be a screenwriter instead of a novelist.
     
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  12. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    Always wander down the side streets of your mind, you never know what hidden gems you might find ...
     
  13. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    You'll know it when it happens. There have been times when my characters have said something to me which has led onto great things. (I'm aware that makes me sound certifiable).
     
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  14. Fullmetal Xeno
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    Fullmetal Xeno Protector of Literature Contributor

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    Give your characters that same reality when you go through something that affects you. How would your character react to one of their family members dying? Would they be able to tolerate the sight of blood? How do they feel about their neighbor across the street? Those are just for starters.
     
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  15. Komposten
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    Komposten Insanitary pile of rotten fruit Staff Supporter Contributor

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    If you end up as some kind of planner, be careful not to set anything truly in stone. As you write you will find that both story and characters will start pulling on their leashes. You must allow them to develop, even if they move in a direction contrary to what you had planned, in order to get realistic and living worlds and characters (be careful not to let them off the leash completely, though).

    Good luck!
    :write:
     
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  16. painty
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    painty New Member

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    Thank you, that is good advice. I have already found since starting the novel that my protagonist has changed (even with using character sheets!) He started out as a blank (boring) canvas but now has a limp and a drink problem as part of his backstory! Both of those will be weaved into the main story. I just want to make sure he is someone people will want to read about.
    Thanks
     
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  17. Doc Holiday
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    Doc Holiday New Member

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    Agree with above. Many ways to write, none of them required.
    Stephen King is likely the most famous Panster out there and his book On Writing (http://www.amazon.com/On-Writing-Anniversary-Edition-Memoir/dp/1439156816) is truly a gem by the way.
    I'm a hybrid for sure. Know generally where I'm going and know my ending by the time I really get going... but hate to outline anything.

    No matter what my best piece of advice is to ditch Microsoft Word asap and move on to a real writing application.
    My all time favorite is Scrivener. It will help you in ways I cannot begin to describe in a forum post.
    http://www.writersstore.com/scrivener/
     
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  18. painty
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    painty New Member

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    Thank you. Yeah i definitely fit into somewhere in the middle currently. I find my writing takes care of itself when i start. Basic outline so i know the main plots etc but am letting the writing lead me.
    I am a scrivener fan too. Bought it after looking at the reviews. Find it very useful.
    Thanks for the reply.
     
  19. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    With scrivener being so popular I have been trying hard to find a reason to like it, but after watching its promotional videos and various write ups, I cannot find a single feature that improves upon the basic software I used now. I never re-arrange chapters, I see no reason to break up the document, nor to spend time creating data cards for chapters. I use Libreoffice Write for the actual document, and Zim to arrange my research, both of which are free. I am not arguing against the software, rather I am trying to understand why people find it useful enough to buy.
     
  20. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    I've had a little look at it (just a little look) but I can't let go of my old way. MSWord, couple of research files to dump pics and text in and paper/pencil journals and timelines that I can write in and always have on my desktop (physical desktop, on the desk next to me) which means I don't have to switch from screen to screen. Throw in my ipad and phone and I can have Book one open, research under my nose, work in progress on screen and internet research on the ipad screen.

    I guess we all work to whichever way suits us!
     
  21. Komposten
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    Komposten Insanitary pile of rotten fruit Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Because all people are different and work in different ways. ;)
     
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  22. DeadMoon
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    DeadMoon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am not a great at spelling correctly so I often find,as I type, a mess of red squiggly lines under my words indicating a misspelling. I can't help but go back right away to fix them (instead of waiting until I write a complete paragraph or even sentience. This often results in slowing down the flow of a the writing for me.
     
  23. Doc Holiday
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    Doc Holiday New Member

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    That is the key. Whatever works.

    I know there is a bit of a learning curve with Scrivener and it's certainly not for everyone.
    I will say the thing that sold me on Scrivener was this three step process:
    1) Select New Project: Fiction: Novel Format
    2) Actually write the damn novel*
    3) Select Compile

    And there it is, a perfectly formatted manuscript.

    * this middle step will, admittedly, take some time.
     
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  24. Gabcy
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    Gabcy Member

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    The best advice I can give is this: Write.

    Just write. As with many things writing becomes easier the more you practice, and applying this to character creation is no different.

    I have found that over time your characters will begin to establish themselves while you write them into your work.
     
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  25. Nicoel
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    Nicoel Contributing Member

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    There is one reason I love writing so much, and it's so important to me you should imagine it in flashing yellow neon sign in the middle of the dessert at night.

    That reason is that there's truly no rules to writing. Sure, there's the conventional grammar rules and such but that's just so it's easier access for everyone and it makes it easy to read. Mckk gave an absolutely wonderful synopsis of the main 2 types of writers, and you just have to experiment with the different ways that work for you!

    The reverse of this is actually a book series! The first book isn't the best, but it just gets better and better. It's called Outlander by Diana Gabaldon if you're curious! (It also just happens to be my favorite book series)
     
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