Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Justin Rocket 2, Jan 3, 2016.
What is the most useful advice/exercise you've ever found in a published book on character creation?
Is there some reason you need it to be from a published book? I have plenty of examples of writers blogs or podcasts that have hugely useful advice on writing characters. Not so much in hard copy though sorry.
Good question. I guess not. Anywhere is fine.
Then I would start here: http://www.writingexcuses.com/2015/02/22/writing-excuses-10-8-qa-on-character/
I know most authors podcasts are about as entertaining as dragging your face over a field of sandpaper, but writing excuses is the exception. Brandon Sanderson writes characters like an absolute champion and is very good at explaining his process without a lot of waffle.
Character quirks. It adds to realism and individuality. It can be something minor (habit) or something major (o.c.d.). I play a lot with them as they express personality traits, even when the characters might not reveal them or admit to them vocally. They might also have a relevance with the characters dramatic backstory somehow, connecting the "now" with the "then". Even a funny quirk might have a dramatic backstory. They can even be used as "helpers" or as "obstacles" into the characters journey. I love their indistinct, symbolic nature.
Not from a book but I like to start characters by picking two traits that conflict with each other, placing both of those traits in the same individual, and then extrapolating the rest of their character based on how those two things cause internal conflict.
The example I always use is that I have one character who is a professional fashion/music blogger who is obsessed with the trappings of pop culture - but she was born and raised as a Jain, placing her in probably the most anti-materialistic religion in the world. She's probably become my favorite character to write because of that, the deeper I dig into her the more conflict I find between her personality and her values.
Another good one is that I have a character who is the adopted daughter of a famous professor at Yale - so she struggles really hard to live up to her mom's academic reputation, but she's tortured by the idea that she has to do that without having literally inherited her mom's brain (she has this weird idea that she probably inherited the brain of a "some idiot teenager who got knocked up at prom" - her words not mine). That was a really interesting mental state to play with...she ended up strung out on study drugs at Dartmouth when she really was smart enough to pass without them.
I agree with Commandante Lemming. Start with an interesting central point, and build the nuances around it.Sometimes, the nuances with even feed back into developing the central bits. The best way to design an aspect character is looking other aspects of the character and deciding they fit together. Do they compliment or conflict? Parallel or diverge? And what does this mean for the character? Meaning is very important in designing a narrative. Most decisions should have a very strong meaning behind them, although some can have slightly trivial motives. Regardless of what you do with the initial concept, it should all fit together like a real living being or at least, it should if you want a complex, meaningful character.
That advice doesn't come specifically from a book btw. Just gathered from various sources and my own thoughts.
Character creation is very simple for me. Characters just pop into my head without having to do any work. Sometimes, if a character isn't immediately clear to me, I write little scenes involving that character (scenes which will not appear in the finished story) just to get to know the character better. I can't work with quirks; I can't even think in those terms. If I did, I'd feel like I'm making sock puppets instead of meeting actual humans.
My problem (if it is a problem) is plot. Plots don't come easy for me, but I don't really mind - as far as I'm concerned, plots are what characters do, and I have my characters pretty well defined. So plot be damned. It'll take care of itself.
I think every writer has a skill or two that they have in spades. Mine are character creation and fairly pretty prose. Plots are hard for me, as are descriptions and pacing (especially pacing). Managing climaxes also gives me trouble. Some of the rest of you probably have the opposite set of skills.
Separate names with a comma.