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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Character Creation Notes

   
Author Topic: Character Creation Notes
Greenscreen
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Ok so I was reading my backlog of Dave W.'s Daily Kick in the pants and on one of them he noted character creation more specificly he said not to focus on who your characters are but where they're going. HE mentioned the advice to use a big character sheet was not quite so good. So my question here is does anyone have seggustions I may be able to use?
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Bent Tree
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I have been kicking the idea around about workshopping potential for characterization. If you could find a buddy, you could send them a synopsis and they could develop a personalized interview style questionaire.

I'd be willing to give it a try to see how it worked.

Otherwise the things that I notice are that some characters seem to be shallow, not as in absorbed with themselves, but lacking depth and distiction from other characters in the same story. I think this is due to lack of delving deep and developing their background.


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Greenscreen
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By synopsis what do you mean? like an overveiw of the character I'm trying to create? I do actually have a page which I could use but I'm not so sure of hwo good it is based on DW's comment's. Here let me post it to see what you think, obviously depending on what I'm writing some feilds would need modification. Also if you could help out I'd be glad to work on my characters with you.
Name:
Species:
Nationality:
Gender:
Age:
Rank:
Position:
Height:
Weight:
Eye Color:
Hair Color:
Appearance:
Personality:
Strengths and Weaknesses:
Ambitions:
Hobbies and Interests:
Languages:
Family:
History:
Service Record:

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marchpane
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I'm not sure if this will help (in fact it may be exactly what you're not looking for) but in the past I've found the following form useful when trying to understand my characters:

http://www.elfwood.com/farp/thewriting/crissychar/crissychar.html

At least some of those questions may not apply, but overall it really does help when it comes to building a character - their history, the intricacies of their personality and their drives. Hopefully it will spark one or two ideas for your synopsis...


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Bent Tree
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Anything that you have towards your story or character. If you have an outline of your story, or whatever notes you have. As we are focusing on the story an abbreviated version of the synopsis(Story) would suffice, but it is important and revelat to the character as I will need to think about how he would react to the circumstances. I would be glad to do an exchange. We could swap, prepare questions for each other, and see how it goes. I have had very rewarding experience with a similar workshop format for plots. Send over what you have when you are ready. I will ready mine for a story I have been thinking about.
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Robert Nowall
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Greenscreen's list seems suitable if your character is in the military---I've come to avoid doing that, as I have no direct experience and felt it showed when I wrote about people in the military. (Of course I have no experience of humaniform robots or pod people, but they populate my latest tries.) Civilians wouldn't have rank or a service record. You might substitute "current job," "employment record," and "performance" as alternate categories.
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MartinV
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The problem I see is this: do you want to create your characters in a generic way (as in using lists like the one above) or do you make them up as you go. Personally, I use the second one, though I was thinking of doing something of a generic thing as well. I was planning to make a list of all the human characterstics I can think of, make random mixes of them and try to imagine a personality with those traits.
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Crank
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I've used the fill-in-the-blank character profile sheets. I've written brief descriptions of their likes/dislikes, personal/philosophical/spiritual beliefs, and the goals that motivate them to get out of bed every morning. I've even modeled a few characters after the behaviors of people I know. Yet, when I begin writing these characters into my stories, the action and the interaction and the emotions of the scenes change them in ways that nearly completely contradict the profiles I've so carefully crafted.

Essentially, my characters took on lives of their own, and evolved in ways I did not anticipate, because the story went in a direction I did not anticipate, because the characters influenced the story to go in a direction I did not anticipate, because---

You get the idea.

What I do now is piece together a brief bio of my characters, then begin writing them in two scenes: the first being a situation that matches his or her 'comfort zone', and the second being a scene that is an exact opposite of his/her/its preferred environment. Exempli gratia: I might write a career military man in the middle of an urban battle, then turn around and see how he reacts in a peacetime environment.

The results of this experiment have been incredibly beneficial. In some cases, these practice scenes got put into the story.

S!
S!...C!


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Unwritten
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Character development is still important. I don't use those charts much, although occasionally I'll look at one just to jumpstart my creativity. I daydream about my characters a lot to flesh them out in my own mind.

Although a lot of my stories are character driven, I write my books with checkpoints along the way, often scenes I am excited to write, and my stories are constantly answering this question:

What has to happen to my character to get them to that scene, yet still be in believable?

Occasionally, I'll have to modify a scene because a character just wouldn't act that way, but often, I can make enough bad things happen to them that they act just the way I want them to.

It's a twisted, sick kind of power I suppose, but it sure is fun!


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Crystal Stevens
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I think a lot of it has to do with how you approach a story idea. Do you start with a story plot and then decide on what kind of characters a story of this type would need or maybe start with a map of a city or a country with ideas of what this country would be like and who would live there? Or you could come up with a wonderful character and build the story around that character.

For example: My short story about the horse abuser started with the idea of what if the tale I'd been told as a child about wild Indians living in a section of the state forest where I ride my horses in was true? Then, I developed my MC's basics (nothing real detailed) and went from there.

My Scalawag novel is about the life of a man that was a supporting character in another novel I'm writing. I kept developing him in my mind, fleshing him out, and thought his story could stand on its own. It worked out great.

I will say that I think you should have some idea about your MC at least and maybe your supporting characters. By this I'm thinking personal morals, beliefs, sticking to type once you've started, and not changing anything that will throw the reader for a loop. In other words; Once you've developed your characters, keep them true to form.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Crank's process reminds me of what I did for one of my characters. I had a friend who encouraged me to write to her as if I were actually the character, and she wrote back, asking him questions about himself and what he thought about certain things. I would reply, as him, and it really helped me to get "into his head" in a way that I don't think I could have done otherwise.
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TaleSpinner
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Thanks for sharing that process, Crank. I plan to try it.

I too started off with structured character profiles, some on index cards, some in a database. I stopped using them for several reasons.

The work of making them stifled creative flow and focused me on a mechanical set of attributes, instead of what made the character interesting--and me passionate about telling her story. Not only that, the multitude of attributes obscured those one or two that were essential to the dramatic intent.

Then the story took over, changing the characters or revealing hidden strengths and weaknesses, making the profiles either out of date or a pain to keep current.

I thought I would need the index cards to remind me of the characters (I am such a geek) and their likely reactions to situations they're confronted with, so that their behaviour would be consistent through the work. But I've discovered I don't need the cards. I have such a system in my head which works surprisingly well for all the real people I know and it seems to serve equally well for fictional characters, once I've established them in my mind (my heart?) by writing about them a little. Crank's process brings structure to this in a way that's useful. (And besides, since when did human beings behave consistently?)

Crystal's point is relevant too. I seem to create a concept, (an SF "what if?"), then a plot, then invent characters who will live the story. Each has a dramatic intent in the story--a protag; an antag; someone who, while contributing value to the story, will also have the arcane technology explained to them; someone who symbolises the evil government; etc, etc. Their dramatic intent influences the "design" of the character, probably more so than a generic template.

Cheers,
Pat

[This message has been edited by TaleSpinner (edited July 02, 2008).]


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annepin
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I use a method similar to Crank's. I write some of my story first. Usually I have enough of a sense of character to get through the first "act" or so. Or I'll write the whole first draft. Then I'll do character sheets. By this time, I have enough of a sense of who the characters are. Filling out the profiles, then, becomes something of an interview with them. I also find writing out scenes very helpful. I think back on the major events of their lives and write out those scenes, or scenes with their closest friends, a lover, a parent, in a perilous situation, their everyday lives, etc. This process has the added benefit of helping me world-build as well.
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MartinV
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I like the way Kathleen suggested. It forces you to think and express yourself as your character. Which is exactly what I want to do in a story.
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JeanneT
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My character notes tend to be pretty basic. While in the middle of writing, I'll not things like the description and name spelling which makes consistency easier in a long work.
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Greenscreen
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So, what would you guys say to say writing four different situations for your character, one for each categorial emotion? Anger, Fear, Sadness, Happiness. (all other emotional descriptions seem to fit into one of these four categories)
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annepin
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I'd worry that this would put your focus too much on how a character is reacting, rather than why or to what. Not that the two are mutually exclusive, just be wary of forcing your character to anger when that might not be her or his natural reaction.

I.e. if someone insults the MC, one reaction might be anger, sure, but other possible reactions could be laughter, disbelief, scorn, hurt, etc.


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JeanneT
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Greenspan, I can't really see any reason for doing that. I don't see your reasoning. But different people use differing tools, so it might work for you or someone else.
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