1. sleepindawg

    sleepindawg Active Member

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    Character Outline(s)?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by sleepindawg, Jul 10, 2019.

    I've decided that it may help me with my WIP if I was to write outlines (it that's the proper term for it) for some of my characters. I took my MC and started writing a description of him in his 'current' human appearance. What I started doing is what might be a 'form'. Name, Height, Weight, and so forth. This and any others I do aren't for the reader, but someplace I read that having something in writing like that could help with the writing process. If it helps me it would likely be in the form of shaking my brain up when I get stuck.

    Any suggestions including saying that I don't need them could be helpful. Please just tell me why you are suggesting whatever you suggest.
     
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  2. Lifeline

    Lifeline Going South. Supporter Contributor

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    I've written several key-moments of secondary characters as short stories because I wanted to get a handle on who these persons are. These short stories have been enormously helpful, and during writing them they've expanded my original story manifold. I could never work with character outlines, because just to generically assign personality traits and other stuff (occupation, age, and whatnot) to persons doesn't tell me who they are, what needs and wants drive them. For that to know, I have to meet them in person—that's why the short stories. But I am a very character-driven writer so your process may be completely different.
     
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  3. RobinLC

    RobinLC Active Member

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    I use a table and have the name and basic info on one cell, and any details I need to remember in another.
    Also, I'm taking a creative writing course this semester and we have some questions that might help flesh out your character a little more. If these don't apply to your type of character you can always come up with your own questions.

    • How the character will change in the course of the story. (Remember the bold part for later!)
    • Do they have pets?
    • Do they like parties?
    • How long have they known their best friend?
    • What are they afraid of?
    • What's their favorite color? Why?

    • What do they like to read.
    • Do they have any brothers or sisters?
    • Do they like eating alone?
    • Do they believe in god? If so, what is their religious affiliation?Have they ever seen a dead body before?
    • Do they exercise?
    • What is their favorite food.
    • Do they call their mother out of duty or love?
    • Have they ever said "I love you"? To whom?
    • What are their strengths? Weaknesses?
    • Do they play an instrument? Why?
     
  4. EFMingo

    EFMingo A Nefarious Flamingo Contributor

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    I kind of like this character template since some questions are a bit off the ordinary and require a bit of perspective from the character, this revealing their mindset.
     
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  5. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

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    This is a character sketch. Also include some of their background and psychology. Why are they the way they are? What is their inner conflict? What are their goals? This will all help you develop a good character arc.
     
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  6. sleepindawg

    sleepindawg Active Member

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    These look like just the sort of info that I wanted, those posts are asking questions about my characters that I was just too clueless to ask without a bit of help.

    Is the "Why?" meant to ask why that instrument? Or play an instrument at all?
     
  7. RobinLC

    RobinLC Active Member

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    You're welcome. and Yes. :p These questions are meant to be a broad interpretation so you can expand as your character develops.
     
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  8. sleepindawg

    sleepindawg Active Member

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    I want to thank everyone who have replied so far. :)

    While I'm thanking people I will still be happy to read other thoughts as they are offered. Besides, I'm thinking that some others might just be able to use ideas that I may be too dense to grasp.
     
  9. cosmic lights

    cosmic lights Senior Member

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    Well, I have two types in my "tool kit" of character profiles. One list is things I feel are necessary to add to a character and I may not need to add them all but I like to go through the list.
    So things like goal, motivation, conflict, character lie, desire, back story, fears, beliefs and so on
    The other list leans more towards broader questions but ones I feel make a human being. Like the characters relationship to other humans, animals and nature. How do they feel about these? Do like dislike or like them? Important figures in their life that influenced them and gave them the mind set they have today. And questions similar to the ones above.
     
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  10. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    I always start with a basic framework of a plot and a cast of characters when I first start writing, so my favorite profiling systems for getting started are systems like MyersBriggs (16 types that can be compared and contrasted in 4 dimensions) and D&D Alignment (9 types that can be compared and contrasted in 2 dimensions) that focus on categorizing lots of basic similarities and differences (just those two together multiply out to 144 types that can be compared and contrasted in 6 dimensions):

    Charlie Petersen, the lead protagonist of my Urban Fantasy WIP, is a Neutral Evil ISTJ: she's neither extremely authoritarian nor extremely antiauthoritarian, she's extremely sociopathic, and she's asocial, practical, insensitive, and organized​

    And as I start writing, I learn more and more about the unique details fleshing out each character that would never fit in any systematic inventory :)

    Charlie originally wanted to be a medical researcher because she hated that every human being ever born is destined to die, and she has a deep and burning anger at the rampancy of the anti-vaccination movement that's killed so many thousands of innocent people by fighting against the medicine that would've saved their lives.

    She graduated high school at 17 and got a BS in Biochemistry, but when her scholarships and two legal jobs couldn't cover tuition and living expenses anymore, she dropped out of her Master's program and turned to crime to support herself (still working out which happened first).

    By the time she met Amy "The Richmond Ripper" Carmine, Charlie'd decided she didn't want to waste her limited time on Earth fighting to save a world that fought so hard not to be saved, and she decided that there was no reason not to work with (and eventually befriend) a serial killer because anybody Amy killed would've just died of something else eventually anyway.

    Now that she's learned that magic is real, however, she's jumping headfirst into studying as many forms of healing magic as she can.
    But even once I come up with all those extra details, the initial label of "Neutral Evil ISTJ" that I started from is still enough for me to keep track of everything :)

    ... Actually, Charlie was initially a Neutral Evil INTP (more theoretical than practical, and more disorganized than organized), but then I rewrote her as being practical and organized because I thought she was more interesting like that, despite my being INTP myself ;)
     
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  11. AndieBoDandy

    AndieBoDandy Member

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    There are a lot of question lists available online to help flesh out your character. I find that sometimes they go a bit overboard. I usually do a basic physical description, then go into family relations, then personal information like beliefs; religion, politics etc (usually very basic). Then personality traits; drinking habits, diet, exercise. A couple of questions I like to ask are: What does your character want most? What are your character's greatest fears?
     
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  12. sleepindawg

    sleepindawg Active Member

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    Interesting, I have thought that my WIP has taken over and was writing it's self through my hands. My problem is that it's stopped working on its self. So now I need to get back to working on it so that it starts progressing again. Hell, I may as well figure on doing all the rest of the work on it. Anyway, it was with that in mind that I got to the point where I felt the need to start this thread and I wish to thank any who has given answers and everyone who adds anything else to it. I will be checking in here often as I work on it. I will also add what I can if the story starts working on its self again.
     
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  13. Aled James Taylor

    Aled James Taylor Contributor Contributor

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    You could start with the plot. Think of the decisions each character makes and then think of the personal qualities they would need in order to think in that way. If a character jumps to the wrong conclusion, you could make them impatient. Which characters need to take risks and which need to be risk averse? Do they need specialist knowledge or specific experiences? The one in charge needs to be domineering while those willing to tag along need to be at least a little submissive. Some characteristics could be included just to make the characters distinguishable from each other.

    If any personal details are mentioned, I'd make a note of them to ensure consistency. If a character's full name is read out a couple of times in a novel, it's good to quote the same middle name on each occasion.
     
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  14. Kallisto

    Kallisto Ruler of the world... somewhere...

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    I think one absolute must is to detail a character's goals, motives, and conflicts. Particularly the MC. What does your character want, why do they want it, and what do they have to overcome to have it? This is very important.

    As for as a conflict, one writer suggested the following three flaws the main character could have to serve as a stumbling block.

    1. A weakness physically. This can be in the balance of physical attributes if not a straight up lacking of them. Strength over speed, speed over strength, some kind of illness or debilitating condition, heavy lack of strength but strength of mind, etc.
    2. A weakness of emotion or personality. Paranoia, a short temper, untrusting, too trusting, prone to lying, prone to bottling emotions, prone to venting emotions, procrastination, etc.
    3. An attachment. Something they will sacrifice for, lie for, do things that aren't right in order to protect or to keep. This can be a person, an item, or even a mindset.
     
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  15. sleepindawg

    sleepindawg Active Member

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    My MC is very old, but I'm not sure if this is part of what you mean by plot. He is also a shape shifter. Here I'm not shooting at magic but instead twisted genetics for the changing ability. Again I'm not sure if your use of the word 'plot' is the usage that I'm addressing. Back to the age of my MC, his age gives him knowledge that allows him to direct the forces at his command. It also lets him know how to design and build things that would be impossible for some merc with a 'normal' lifespan to manage to design much less build after designing.

    Gary Orson Dannels is his current name, and because he's a merc and leader of a unit of specialist mercs he has assumed (given himself) the rank of Major. In his past he has had many names, but he likes to make his names include jokes. This one is fun for him but who can tell me how he's having fun with it? Covering Aled's comment about consistency, in this case, yes I've put it down in the start of a profile for him that I have, but I wouldn't need to in his case. If I were to mess up on Gary's middle name the joke about his name and rank would fall apart.

    Maybe I would have better luck with my character profile for him if I were to find and use a D&D style Character sheet. Anyone have a view on that?
     
  16. sleepindawg

    sleepindawg Active Member

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    Well, in this case, my MC doesn't really have any of those, but then he has several human lifespans to learn to counter the few things that could cause such weaknesses. The biggest one would be getting used to the differences after a shapeshift including a shift to create a new identity. The new identity requires a change in body form to include new hight or girth. At this point I must comment that he isn't magic, whatever form he takes will have the same mass as the form he is leaving. Now within limits he can bulk up or slim down to change the mass he has to work with, but it's easier to go with keeping a steady mass. Just to cover things, unless he changes his body mass when he gets taller he has to get thinner and vice-versa.

    He does have to have what we could call a healthy bit of paranoia. He has to keep just what he is secret. How many humans could handle knowing that there is at least 1 real shapeshifter?

    Or keeping his ability a secret?
     
  17. Kallisto

    Kallisto Ruler of the world... somewhere...

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    An attachment to a secret is a legit attachment. You have to remember that these are options. Your character is not necessarily going to have all of these. Mine certainly doesn't.
     
  18. sleepindawg

    sleepindawg Active Member

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    I was actually checking to see just how many of them actually applied to my MC.
     
  19. Aled James Taylor

    Aled James Taylor Contributor Contributor

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    In a story, characters make decisions depending on their personal qualities, knowledge, ambitions, hopes and fears etc. (These are the things you need to define). Then, those decisions lead to events which, in turn, lead to more decisions and more events. These events form a chain which is your story (the plot).

    As an author, you can think of this process in reverse order. You can start with the story and then think of the events forming it, then the decisions that cause those events, and then the personal qualities needed to make those particular decisions.

    What you don't want to do is have characters who's decisions are out of character. If your main character is old and wise, he'll likely be patient and make thoughtful decisions based on the history he knows. If he makes impulsive decisions, this would be out of character and the whole thing may not hang together as believable.

    Do you have a story, and does this story require decisions to be made that are in keeping with your MC's qualities?

    If you don't have a story in mind, you may be 'shooting yourself in the foot' by developing the MC's qualities in detail.
     
  20. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

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    Yeah, the story and the characters do take on a life of their own. If you have several characters, be careful that you include some mundane things like appearance and when/where they were born. Important for consistency, so you don't turn your red-headed person into a blond in the space of a few chapters!

    Also, since your characters will tell you more of their story as you tell theirs, feel free to update your character sketch as you go along, don't be bound by it, and don't feel you have to know all about them at the start. Too much pre-planning can make a character flat and obvious from the start. One of my characters was a 40 year old Roman centurion, whose mother had died very early in his life, no sisters. The women in his life had all been rented for the night, and other hangers-on around the army camp. Never had a long term relation, really did not understand women. So when he finds this girl who is well-dressed, and obviously very intelligent, he is a bit shaken, and actually puts her on a bit of a pedestal, afraid he might offend her by accident. Interesting arc, for both, because she is the abused concubine of a mid-level Chinese official, out from under his abuse briefly for the first time since she was twelve. The centurion is the first man who has treated her with respect since she was taken from her family. Neither knows what to make of the other.

    But they told me all these things, in their own time, as she and her brother join him along the rail of the ship, watching dolphins cavorting in waters of the Red Sea.
     
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  21. Foxxx

    Foxxx The Debonair Contributor

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    @Simpson17866 I just gave your advice a try. It was pretty fun; definitely a great part I can add to character dossiers. What D&D Alignment Test do you use?

    I ran into three difficulties.

    1) It was hard to answer the questions in the mind of my *character* and not how *I* would answer them. I managed to do it decently well I think with a lot of conscious effort, but this was certainly a challenge I hadn't anticipated. Good practice, I suppose?

    2) Given the first difficulty above, it would seem that the ideal way of using such a test would be to already have a pretty good understanding of your character. Either you go into the test with some sort of basic foundation, or you have to figure it out as you go along. It took me almost two hours to answer what amounted to essentially 30 to 35 multiple-choice questions.

    3) The situation of my character is very unusual, and a lot of the questions didn't apply. I was able to "reconceptualize" most of those questions, for lack of a better word, pretending like words such as "career" were synonymous with "goal" or "mission". It wasn't easy though, and didn't leave me wholly satisfied. At the end I got "true neutral" and ultimately I wasn't sure if that best fit what I had in mind with my MC. It did however give a general description of what "true neutral" means, and that its negative manifestations include apathy and a lack of conviction, which is closer in theme to the overall story.

    What are your thoughts? Do you use the Myers personality test first and utilize that to inform your answers on the D&D Alignment?

    Also, the big question I have is about the fact that we often want our characters to change and develop. So in some sense, do you think that this kind of test is only reflective of the character at a certain point in time?

    Note: Some of my concerns have been alleviated by considering other factors like "Intelligence".

    http://easydamus.com/alignandint.html
     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2019
  22. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    I'm putting most of my Wall of Text in spoiler-tags to save space ;)

    I don't :D

    I could've used a test to look at dozens of specific ways that Alignment manifests, then let the test tell me the general pattern that arose (for example, a test where a character scored 18 Law points, 3 Neutrality points, and 6 Chaos points would return a label of "Lawful"), and a lot of writers do that,

    But I prefer to start with a general label, then look at specific instances that come up in the book and decide "Should this be one of the many instances where the character follows the general pattern of their label, or is this one of the few times where they'd break the general pattern?" :)
    Which is exactly why I test myself first and then look at characters in terms of "How are we similar, and how are we different?" :)

    For example
    • my Alignment is "Chaotic Neutral" (extremely antiauthoritarian, neither extremely saintly nor extremely sociopathic) and my Myers-Briggs is "INTP" (asocial, abstracting, insensitive, disorganized).
    • I originally wanted to write my lead protagonist Charlie as being a Neutral Evil INTP: roughly as asocial, abstracting, impersonal, and disorganized as I am, but far less antiauthoritarian and far more sociopathic
    • I then decided to rewrite her as being a Neutral Evil ISTJ instead because I thought she'd be more interesting if she was generally much more practical and organized than I am
    Does this help?
    Hence why I start with the general pattern I want and then look for the occasional specific exceptions ;)
    Plus, in True Neutral's defense, it doesn't have to mean "committed to apathy and nihilism," it could also just mean "average, normal, just trying to live their life" :)
    Nope! :D I look at both at the same time – essentially as different parts of one big system – and I love creating combinations that people wouldn't stereotypically expect :)
    • People online who talk about Myers-Briggs and Alignment together generally say "Lawful = Order = Judger, and Chaotic = Disorder = Perceiver"
    • But I can easily picture people who are authoritarian about what they feel they need to do, yet flexible and spontaneous about how they're most comfortable doing it (Lawful Perceivers), and I can easily picture people who are antiauthoritarian about what they want to do, yet meticulous and step-by-step about how they want to do it (Chaotic Judgers)
    Technically, this is extremely personal and by no stretch objective: the official definitions of "Lawful" and "Chaotic" as written in the game rulebooks are so haphazard and contradictory that I choose to define "Law vs Chaos" as "Authoritarian vs Antiauthoritarian," but somebody else could define "Law vs Chaos" as "Step-by-step vs Spontaneous," and I have a rule against arguing that my interpretation is better than theirs.

    But I'm Chaotic, so I'm going to argue it anyway instead of caring about my rule :D

    If "Law vs Chaos" means "Authoritarian vs Antiauthoritarian," then combining Alignment with Myers-Briggs lets you measure 2 different personality traits (authoritarianism, organization) at 2 and 3 levels of precision: the options on Myers-Briggs are "mostly organized" (J) and "mostly disorganized" (P), and the options for Alignment are "extremely authoritarian," (Lawful), "slightly authoritarian or slightly antiauthoritarian" (Neutral), and "extremely antiauthoritarian" (Chaotic).

    If "Law vs Chaos" is "Step-by-step vs Spontaneous," then combining it with Myers-Briggs lets you measure that same personality trait with 4 levels of precision:
    • A Lawful Judger is extremely organized
    • A Neutral Judger is slightly organized
    • A Neutral Perceiver is slightly disorganized
    • A Chaotic Perciever is extremely disorganized
    but it's still only one piece of information. I prefer 2 pieces of information with 6 combinations over just 1 piece of information with 4 options :)
    Absolutely!
    That is always important to remember ;) I'm extremely antiauthoritarian in my personal life and in my political views, but I'm also intelligent enough to go along with what my employers tell me to do when I'm on the clock :)
     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2019
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  23. sleepindawg

    sleepindawg Active Member

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    Actually when he's done being Maj. Gary Orson Dannels his hair color likely will change along with his hight and build, but then, that's the nature of a shapeshifter when they take on a new identity.

    Other than that I do find what is being said here interesting even if I don't fully grasp it. But on the other hand, if I do need to understand it I'm likely able to figure it out. IOW, at this time I'm not putting a lot of concentration into figuring the part about alignments out right now.
     
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