1. Mayarra

    Mayarra Banned Supporter

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    How do you create characters?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Mayarra, Sep 13, 2017.

    When searching on google a bit, I found a lot of "charts" used to create fictive characters.

    Going into name, age, ethnic background, religion, etc. All the way to relationships with others and favorite foods. Some also having a square for a picture. Some are the size of one regular page in Word, some are seven pages.

    How do you all make a character? Do you use a chart found on the internet or maybe make one yourself based on the things you found you needed or something like that?
     
  2. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor Community Volunteer

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    My characters arrive in my head, not complete, but in a form sufficient to drop them into a scene and discover more. I realize that doesn't help anyone whose characters don't arrive in their heads at all. But I dislike the idea of filling out all of those details before the character first walks into a scene. I discover a lot of things about my characters when I write them into scenes, and I know that for me, if I had made those decisions already and written them down, that would tend to set the character into stone and suppress those discoveries. Yes, I can change my mind, but all the same, forcing myself to make that decision ahead of time would reduce my creativity later.
     
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  3. Mayarra

    Mayarra Banned Supporter

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    That is kinda the reason I asked too. They pop up with me and I develop them over time, I was looking for tips on characters when I found charts. The second I am in need of a new character for whatever reason, I see him/her plus a basic personality in my head, I tried the most detailed chart I could find (7 pages with nothing filled in) and most things I wonder if I would ever use them.

    For some things, such charts can be helpful to keep some consistency, but I think using them while writing would be a better idea than before the writing.

    Something I do like to do myself is grab an image of someone looking exactly like my character, mostly drawings but occasionally pictures. It helps me get a more concrete image of their personality.
     
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  4. archer88i

    archer88i Contributing Member

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    I start with one or two things that I know about them and a few theories.

    In my last novel (unfinished), the one thing I knew about the protagonist is that he believed he was truly a coward at heart, but the thing he feared most was the idea that other people might someday find out. As a result, he was famous for extreme valor in battle, and for starting--and winning--a lot of honor duels and so forth. In effect, his character built the entire world, because the entire point of the story was to write about a world before the death of Western chivalry, and before the fall of classical heroism.

    Everything else is just guesswork until it's committed to the actual pages of the novel, so there is no creation process ahead of time.
     
  5. izzybot

    izzybot Oportet Vivere Contributor

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    I find those surveys and the like fun sometimes (actually did one just past night to chill out and help me get to sleep), but they're not useful to me for character building.

    I usually have a kernel of an idea of who the character is - whatever it is about them that's interesting and compelling, that's worth telling a story about - and I build from there.

    I start with "How did they get to where they are now?" because that helps to get an idea of what other traits they might have. EG I've got a hitman, and I don't know a lot about his past, but I know he's qualified to do what he does because he's ex-military. So, what factors caused him to join up in the first place, and what caused him to go from there to working with what's essentially a terrorist cell?

    Then it's "Where do we go from here?". Since I write character-driven stuff, I focus on how I want the character to change. My hitman is paranoid and isolated and I wanted to break him down a bit, so I gave him someone to care about and then took them away. In this case, his story's still in progress, but since his inception he's become more caring and protective, and it's seriously endangered his job.

    Sometimes in addition to what's next, I think "What's the end game?". Sometimes they're the same thing, sometimes not. I could make my hitman return to his isolated stasis as an end goal, or I could push him further and make him leave the life he's got or do something dramatic like try to tear it down entirely. In that case, "what's next" is only a middle step. It just depends on how long of a story I want to tell with him.

    I think that the longer a story is, the more background you need to know, so to inform the current/future events, I'll keep asking myself "What happened that caused him to make this decision?" etc as I go, and flesh out the past and future at the same time.
     
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  6. Fernando.C

    Fernando.C Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm like @ChickenFreak, my characters kinda just come to me most of the time. Obliviously their not very detailed and flesh out initially but as I write them and develop their arcs, I learn and discover more and more about them and make changes to the story accordingly. This works pretty great more me, I'm a discovery writer overall so having charts and characters sheet and such organized and formulaic options really doesn't work for me, I've tried them but their not for me.
     
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  7. xanadu

    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    This tends to be my process as well. However, I often get a little bit of plot along with the character, because I can't have one without the other. To clarify, I don't get this:

    Valentine, a 28-year-old lesbian snarkfest with dyed hair and glasses, fitting the role of bored-shitless millennial looking for adventure.

    Instead, I get this:

    Valentine, a 28-year-old lesbian snarkfest with dyed hair and glasses, fitting the role of bored-shitless millennial who also finds out she can commune with spirits. She meets her new spirit friend, Liri, who's a smug goody-goody intent on bringing Valentine to what is essentially a medium recruitment camp and who's convinced, beyond all doubt, that Valentine and her rule-breaking will be the death of her.

    And off I go. Valentine does nothing for me on her own. She has to come with a situation and a spark of plot for me to be able to do anything with her.

    Also, regarding character charts, I'll admit I've used them to spark an idea. But once the idea is sparked, I abandon the sheet and, once again, off I go.
     
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  8. surrealscenes

    surrealscenes Contributing Member

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    I have yet to use a character sheet.
    I create a MC, and they become the center. Every other character relates to the MC in ways. They have elements that the MC should have and shouldn't have. I try to balance the MC through the other characters. If an MC is very serious, then one of the others will be the opposite in a way. I try to explore how real friendships and acquaintances work out over time with the personalities we end up surrounding ourselves with.
     
  9. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    @Mayarra I talk a lot on this site about how I create my characters, so I just sent you a PM instead of cluttering up yet another thread :)
     
  10. big soft moose

    big soft moose Contributing Member Contributor Community Volunteer

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    I'm another one who is yet to use a chart or any of the myers briggs stuff ... I generally start with an idea or a name and just flesh out from there

    So for example in my as yet untitled Wip about the battle of britain I decided that I wanted to write a book that steps away from the glory of war and the knights in the sky, the few etc and showed more of the reality. So I started with the decision that my character would have the by name "Lucky"

    That led me to the idea of having him as a cynical narrator " In those days people called me 'Lucky'. Christ knows why, there isn't much lucky about watching your friends die" That then led me to wanting a surname that alliterates with Lucky and I settled on Lawson and so Flt Officer Lucky Lawson is born... (He doesnt have a first name - well obviously he does but no one ever uses it)

    Then from research I was reading about Guy Gibson VC and what an absolute cad he was on the ground so I decided i wanted some of that in Lucky's character, so he's not a knight in shining armour, he's an absolute bastard, cheating on women, sleeping with his colleagues girls and so forth.... keeping reader sympathy then meant I had to show why he's like that ... ie that he's measuring his life in hours and days and surviving means that he can't afford to care about anything or anyone

    Then that led to the character arc questions of will he stay like that or will something happen to change him and so forth

    Character is still in development and will remain so until first draft is finished and quite possibly beyond
     
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  11. Stormburn

    Stormburn Active Member

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    One of my favorite characters in Áed is Nhillira (placeholder name) who is an orc. Now, the orcs(in Triskele, my fantasy world)are know for betrayal. So, at the end of the series, she would betray the MC. But, as I wrote the story, a very different character emerged; someone is very loyal to the MC. Because of this loyalty, at the end of the series, she sees the MC's best friend as the betrayer, tries to murder her
    and flees from the group. Even though the end result was the same (attempted murder and exile) by going with my gut and scrapping my preconceived idea of who the character was, a much more interesting and satisfying character and story developed.
     
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  12. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributing Member Contributor

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    I first come up with the scenario I want to write, then work backwards to figure out what kind of characters would make that scenario particularly compelling. Then I work backwards again to figure out what happened in their lives up until the moment we meet them to make them the people they are.
     
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  13. Moon

    Moon Senior Member

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    I find them in the trash.

    :p


    Usually something like this^



    Ooh, ooh, send me a PM too.
     
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  14. izzybot

    izzybot Oportet Vivere Contributor

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    You too? Who's throwing out all of these perfectly good kind of all right entirely adequate characters?
     
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  15. Moon

    Moon Senior Member

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    Unsure. I even went to prison for stalking Stephen Kings trash just to see if he was throwing them away one night. If you find the character tosser, let me know.
     
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  16. Kallisto

    Kallisto Active Member

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    I start with archetypes. Just real basic outlines. I'll have the tragic hero or the bumbling sidekick or whatever. They just help me map what kind of personality this person might have and what their role is in the story. After that, I might try to figure out what made the character the way they are. Then comes the most important part of the story: creating the goals, the motives, and the conflicts of each of the characters.

    Notice, I don't think of "flaws" a characters might have. Those flaws come naturally as characters fail and have to face their weaknesses.
     
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  17. A.M.P.

    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Contributor

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    My characters just come to me when I start thinking of the plot and story.
    Usually I just have a cool scene or theme I like.
    From there, I see how it all comes to be and that shows me who my characters are and what they need to be to make it all work.
    I can't imagine using charts or bio pages. That's all reflexive for me.
     
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  18. Lifeline

    Lifeline Out of the Night Supporter Contributor

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    Depends on if we're talking about my main MC, or the other MC, or the secondary characters, or third tier :p. It depends on where in the storyweb they sit, how their personalities make themselves known. The closer to the heart of the story, the more they stand on their own and make the story adhere to them rather than the other way round.

    In my head, the 'heart of the story' is what matters, not the exact events, nor most of the characters. The story, as well as most of the characters get changed/created organically by each other—which, if it sounds like fun in planning, I can assure you it is :oops:.
     
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  19. jannert

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    My stories always start with the idea of a situation/setting plus a character (or characters) who fits into it. That's not a chore. I then start building a story from just these two elements. The secondary and minor characters enter in as ideas occur to me which influence the situation/setting and the main character.

    I am not, at heart, a meticulous planner. I think meticulous planning favours a plot-centred story, which mine are not. I find the inner journey of characters a lot more fascinating to explore than 'he did this, then he did that.' I like to put characters into settings and see what happens. I have faith that their evolution will make a story.

    The story I'm working on just now is a direct sequel to my first novel, so there are elements I can't change. I'm starting with a lot more known factors (and fully developed characters) than I had when I started writing the first story, and there is a physical journey the characters will take in this second story. But the elements of this journey are still in flux. When I put them on a train, what happens? If they stop at Niagara Falls enroute to Boston (and Nova Scotia) what happens? When they are in Boston, what happens? New characters are entering the picture, and the story is building. I know what the end result will be (unlike the first story I wrote, I already have partly written the end of this one.) However, the elements of the journey and the consequences each event will trigger are still in flux. I love this feeling, actually. That feeling of not knowing what I'm going to do next. That's part of the fun of writing—for me, anyway.
     
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  20. Michael Pless

    Michael Pless Contributing Member

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    Given how important the character is to the story, I prefer to define the character reasonably well first. As the story and plot develops so does the character, but mine do not change a great deal. They tend to get extra depth and sometimes attributes and perspectives but at the end of a story they're recognizable as the same character.

    I use whatever tools I can to create my characters and I build them usually by using the character generator in my software. I add speech characteristics to that definition because the dialogue will be of critical import to the novel's readability. I'm less intense when it comes to physical characteristics although they must be appropriate to the character's tasks ahead.

    But starting a character? I have to admit I'm unclear where they come from, but I tend to rely on past experience or draw from those I see in movies. I always introduce changes to make them unique, though. My next piece will see me move from an MC of great height with straight, fair hair (based loosely on Aaron Eckhardt) and is former police to one who is average, has curly, brown hair and is involved in computer networking. For physical characteristics, I see nothing wrong with choosing an actor - photos are easily obtained - and building from there. I have no idea what the actor is like in real life and that doesn't matter.
     
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  21. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think any and all efforts to define characters before you write them is at absolute best wasted time and at worst will take your writing in the wrong direction.

    The way to create a character is just to write them. How do they talk? How do they act? Well, let's find out. Just write a scene and see what comes out and you build on that. What makes you smile? What catches your attention? What makes this person someone you want to keep writing? The longer you write the better you flesh them out and more insights you can get into them and that's really all it takes. Trust your gut when writing characters. You know what people are like, right? So just write a person that fits into your story.

    All that planning does is give you things to discard the second you find this person's voice, and gives you lots of spurious details to work into the story to make yourself feel clever. You should include the things that naturally occur in the story and nothing more, and having a sheet full of stuff that you've decided is important is not a good thing for achieving that. If it matters that your character's father died young then you'll naturally be lead to them talking about it, and if not then you've wasted your time coming up with a different story about that that now you have an investment in and want to put into the book regardless.

    You should have your plot in mind to some degree when coming up with characters. You should know what world and what kind of story this is at the very least. And once you've got that creating an MC isn't hard, at least not enough of an idea to start writing from. All you really need to know is their age and one thing that makes them interesting to you. In my projects it's ideas that are genuinely as vague as 'Girl who is really competitive' and 'Girl who is very masculine' and 'Girl whose foster dad hits her'. And just with that you can start to build a world. Put them in a situation and let them talk and think about how that one interesting thing asserts itself. Job jobbed.
     
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  22. dragonmint

    dragonmint Member

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    I used to use character sheets and the like, but I kinda grew away from them. They did help me come up with characters but failed to help develop them. Those types of self-help sheets, well, didn't help me. Like many people in this thread, my characters just come to me. My MC came to me and just naturally developed to fully fledged person. Funnily enough, he's the supposed dark lord of my world, so it's definitely fun to play around with the archetypes and traditional narratives: the main villain is the main character, the main hero is the main villain, etc.
     
  23. K McIntyre

    K McIntyre Member

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    I agree with @jannert. I start with a rough idea of the story's plot and one or two loosely fleshed out characters, and then I let the story and the characters evolve. Some planning is necessary, but too much is stifling. At least for me.
     
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  24. Michael Pless

    Michael Pless Contributing Member

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    Perhaps one of the most myopically wrong things I've read in a long time on this forum. I recall vividly how my classmates struggled to get a coherent story and had to repeatedly backtrack with the "just write the character in a scene" approach that most of them had; it was against all lecturer's advice, too.

    But to each their own. I'll stick with something that makes sense.
     
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  25. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Efficiency is not necessarily the primary goal in writing fiction. If you can achieve efficiency and creativity with a single method, yay! But if one has to go, it's efficiency that I'll shove out of the boat.
     
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