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Characterization Methods & Models (1 Viewer)

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luckyscars

WF Veterans
I have lately been looking at possibly trying out the snowflake method for the sake of curiosity and experimentation.

For those unfamiliar, the snowflake method could otherwise be described as 'extreme outlining' where you go through a series of steps starting with a single sentence and ending up with a full outline.

There's even a template that, in theory, once completely filled out will result in a pretty full skeleton of a novel.

The Snowflake Method is controversial due to the extent of design over the creative process. No doubt, it is definitely not for everyone's taste. Writing this way requires a lot of discipline and deliberation and basically all the hard decisions to be made in the planning process. So that, together with the fact I have written several novels right now without it, means I am not here to sing its praises :) (But maybe give it a shot, if you're struggling?)

What DID stick out to me, though, is the character section of the template. Here, the model asks you to fill out the below for your characters. This was kind of crazy to me because I don't think I could answer these questions for even the major characters in the books I have already written.

But, part of me is wondering if maybe the fact I can't answer them speaks to some flaws in my characterization approach. I don't tend to consider details of my characters that aren't actually related to the story.

So, I guess the question is, to what extent should a writer be able to answer the below for their characters? Even if these things don't appear in the work, do you think knowing characters in this much detail is important?

Name:
One sentence desc:
Motivation (abstract):
Goal(s) (specific):
What's at stake?
External conflicts:
Internal conflicts:
Epiphany/Evolution:
Loves:
Hates:
Secrets/Shames:
Prides/Abilities:
Flaws/Challenges:
Values/Alignment:
Character's basic storyline:
General Info
Birthday / age:
Place of birth:
Parents:
Siblings:
Ethnic background:
Places lived:
Education:
Special training:
Jobs:
Wealth:
Travel:
Friends:
Enemies:
Dating, marriage:
Children:
Physical appearance:
Physical build:
Posture:
Head shape:
Eyes:
Nose:
Mouth:
Hair
Skin:
Tattoos / piercings / scars / etc.:
Voice:
Right- or left-handed:
Handicap:
What you notice first:
Clothing:
Health/disabilities:
Characteristics:
How would character describe self:
Interests and favorites:
Collections, talents:
Political leaning:
Food, drink:
Music:
Books:
Movies:
Sports, recreation:
Color:
Hobbies:
Religious beliefs:
A great gift for this person:
Favorite subject in school:
Pets:
Vehicle:
Emotions
Fears:
Idiosyncrasies:
Typical expressions:
When happy:
When angry:
When sad:
Laughs or jeers at:
Ways to cheer up this person:
Ways to annoy this person:
Hopes and dreams:
Overall outlook on life:
Does this character like him/herself:
Wants to change anything about his/her life?
Is s/he lying to himself about something?
S/he is the kind of person who:
How much self-control and self-discipline does he have:
History
Worst thing ever done and why:
Greatest success:
Biggest trauma:
Cares about most in the world:
Does he have a secret:
Most embarrassing thing that ever happened:
Strongest/weakest character traits:
Other people
People the character admires most:
How is the character viewed by others:
What people like best about him/her:
What people dislike about him/her:
What does this character like best about the other main character(s):
What does this character dislike about the other main character(s):
If s/he could do one thing and succeed at it, what would it be:
Why will the reader sympathize with this character:
Backstory / history:
(details)
Changes over time:
(details)
 

Tiamat

Patron
First of all, holy crap to that list.

But I've heard/read several successful writers suggesting something similar. Maybe not such a massive list, but a general, "Figure out all the itty bitty little details about your character--whether or not they end up in your novel" and I think it makes sense. This is the first I'm hearing about the snowflake method, but as someone who prefers to outline novels before starting, it sounds pretty intriguing. A lot more detailed than I've ever attempted, but owing to the fact that not a single one of my novels ever made it past the "request full manuscript" stage of traditional publishing, perhaps a stronger outline would be beneficial. Also considering that the one novel I ever attempted to "pants" my way through is still sitting unfinished at around 40K words after six years.

I'd be curious to hear how it works out for you if you decide to take a crack at it. I think I have to go buy that dude's book now, just to learn some more.

Thanks for sharing.
 

TheManx

Senior Member
I remember looking into the snowflake method. I wasn't very impressed by the writing of the people touting it.
 

Sir-KP

Senior Member
Kinda important, I guess? Yes, even though they aren't revealed in the story, but those are affecting/related to their thinking, mindset, and personality.

So it's just 'the more you know, the better' kind of thing.


I have this template, albeit shorter. But never actually used it. :p I prefer writing them in paragraph than point-to-point.
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
I've been considering for a while. But the only book I wanted to try is a book on how to incorporate history into fiction. It's peer reviewed and costs 83 dollars which I dislike. But it's written by some science fiction and fantasy authors who use history, and interviews some author's approaches to history, as well as it shares some historians worth reading.

Thanks for sharing though since that's very extensive and it does seem interesting. I might grab it. So do you have to based on real people or also imagine it? I've been imagining the motivation of my characters based on people I have known.

One thing that has always confused me about his system, is how values are understood. Pitting one value against the next for example. How do you determine something abstract. For example how do you write a conflict based on two values since I am assuming he means that's a way to generate conflict.

For me I am trying to write about people's problems to create conflict. Then I have them be the source of the problem.
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
. I think I have to go buy that dude's book now, just to learn some more.

I don't know if it's necessary to buy the book to give it a shot. The template I linked to basically walks through and contains some explanatory links if needed. I'm not buying his book, this is just an experiment at this point. My biggest problem is it just takes me so long to get through the rewrite/editing process. I can easily write drafts but the plot holes and areas of weakness cause me problems on revision and I am exploring this as a way to kind of organize my ideas, I guess?

I remember looking into the snowflake method. I wasn't very impressed by the writing of the people touting it.

How many writers did you read who used it? I'm not actually aware of any writers who use it but I figured it's not something most of them would likely talk about. Do you think their work was unimpressive because of the snowflake? I feel like it's the kind of thing that is most popular among absolute beginners who struggle from the start.

I prefer writing them in paragraph than point-to-point.

How long does it take you to complete a novel using your method?

So do you have to based on real people or also imagine it? I've been imagining the motivation of my characters based on people I have known.

It can be either, I guess.

One thing that has always confused me about his system, is how values are understood. Pitting one value against the next for example. How do you determine something abstract. For example how do you write a conflict based on two values since I am assuming he means that's a way to generate conflict.

That's a pretty good question, actually. I suspect it's not something the snowflake method itself concerns with but can be whatever you determine. This doesn't eradicate creativity, you still have to come up with the content, but I guess it's more of a way to track.
 

Kyle R

WF Veterans
I could never answer a character questionnaire like that before writing a story :grief: ... but I can answer it after the story has been written. :cheers:

I think, in general, we excel at whatever we do the most.

Randy Ingermanson was a physicist before he became a writer. So I'm betting the cerebral, write-out-your-formulas-and-check-your-math nature of physics has something to do with how he approaches writing.

Contrast that with, say, Stephen King, who essentially writes with a "Fuck if I know where I'm going with any of this!" approach, then goes for walks in the woods whenever he gets stumped.

I don't think there's any correct approach, except for the one that works the most for the individual writer. King's approach would probably feel like torture to Ingermanson. And vice-versa.
 

Joker

Senior Member
I could never answer a character questionnaire like that before writing a story :grief: ... but I can answer it after the story has been written. :cheers:

I think, in general, we excel at whatever we do the most.

Randy Ingermanson was a physicist before he became a writer. So I'm betting the cerebral, write-out-your-formulas-and-check-your-math nature of physics has something to do with how he approaches writing.

Contrast that with, say, Stephen King, who essentially writes with a "Fuck if I know where I'm going with any of this!" approach, then goes for walks in the woods whenever he gets stumped.

I don't think there's any correct approach, except for the one that works the most for the individual writer. King's approach would probably feel like torture to Ingermanson. And vice-versa.

Pantsing has never worked out for me. You wanna know a little secret? I'm not a very creative person. I like my prose, I'm proud of what I can do, but I'm really not an ideas guy. Takes me too long to do it on the fly.

But there are people way more artistic than me.
 

Tiamat

Patron
I don't know if it's necessary to buy the book to give it a shot. The template I linked to basically walks through and contains some explanatory links if needed. I'm not buying his book, this is just an experiment at this point. My biggest problem is it just takes me so long to get through the rewrite/editing process. I can easily write drafts but the plot holes and areas of weakness cause me problems on revision and I am exploring this as a way to kind of organize my ideas, I guess?
It may not be strictly necessary, but it's just kind of how I learn. I read the website and I feel like I could probably wing it from what's there, but I like to see specific examples of it. I read a few of the reviews on Amazon in the way the book presents the material. Basically from what I read, it's a more analogous rather than a list of steps so you get more of a holistic approach to the ins and outs of it, rather than first do this and do this, etc.

Randy Ingermanson was a physicist before he became a writer. So I'm betting the cerebral, write-out-your-formulas-and-check-your-math nature of physics has something to do with how he approaches writing.
This is 100% me. Not that I'm a physicist by any stretch, but I've often felt that one of my weaknesses as a writer is being too left-brained at times. My thought (hope?) is that incorporating deliberate left brain stuff into my drafting might satisfy the beast so the right brain can have more of an opportunity to do its thing. Plus me and Excel are good buddies, so that helps. :lol:
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
WOW - and I thought that I was an over planner. Holy cow - WAY overdone IMO.

For characters I make note (on the character tab in my outline spreadsheet) of their age & appearance, and make note of some common phrases they use in dialogue. That's it.
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
WOW - and I thought that I was an over planner. Holy cow - WAY overdone IMO.

For characters I make note (on the character tab in my outline spreadsheet) of their age & appearance, and make note of some common phrases they use in dialogue. That's it.
I try to write some phrases that convey an attitude I have noticed in people. This becomes the motivation of the character if interesting enough. These can be opinions.

I think every writer goes through a writing process to see what works for them.
 

TheManx

Senior Member
How many writers did you read who used it? I'm not actually aware of any writers who use it but I figured it's not something most of them would likely talk about. Do you think their work was unimpressive because of the snowflake? I feel like it's the kind of thing that is most popular among absolute beginners who struggle from the start.

I'd say 10 years ago, maybe more, there were a lot of authors doing how-to blogs. I remember a few who recommended the snowflake method or just these kinds of detailed character check lists. There was one in particular who had a website detailing the snowflake method. He'd written a science fiction series with political undertones (libertarian, maybe), and I think they were relativity popular. I tried to google him but nothing's ringing a bell. In retrospect, maybe I was prejudiced by the writing itself and the genres, and what looked to me like a kind of forced structure—but there's probably a lot of leeway in the method, and of course, like all outlines, regardless of how detailed they are, nothing is ever is set in stone.

I'm not a pantser. But I work out stories mainly in my head, with a few written notes, as opposed to any kind of detailed outline. I do think about my characters a lot (maybe obsess over them) when I'm not writing, so I tend to fill in SOME of this kind information in my head. I can see doing it more formally, if it's something people find useful. My characters seem to have unique voices and personalities and react and behave in ways that are consistent, so it seems to work, at least in my short stories. I also tend not to have very many characters. But I've only finished the one novel and only had a couple of nibbles before my writing was derailed by life issues and other responsibilities, so who knows. I'm going to do a rewrite and see what happens. Like Tiamat, if I don't get anywhere with this one, maybe some more detailed character analysis and outlining is in order.

I wouldn't discourage anyone from trying something that might work for them, as long as they move on from planing at some point and get down to writing...:)
 
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bazz cargo

Retired Supervisor
The mind boggles...
I do keep notes to make sure the continuity is okay. Otherwise the people who live in my head just get on with it.

I have lately been looking at possibly trying out the snowflake method for the sake of curiosity and experimentation.

For those unfamiliar, the snowflake method could otherwise be described as 'extreme outlining' where you go through a series of steps starting with a single sentence and ending up with a full outline.

There's even a template that, in theory, once completely filled out will result in a pretty full skeleton of a novel.

The Snowflake Method is controversial due to the extent of design over the creative process. No doubt, it is definitely not for everyone's taste. Writing this way requires a lot of discipline and deliberation and basically all the hard decisions to be made in the planning process. So that, together with the fact I have written several novels right now without it, means I am not here to sing its praises :) (But maybe give it a shot, if you're struggling?)

What DID stick out to me, though, is the character section of the template. Here, the model asks you to fill out the below for your characters. This was kind of crazy to me because I don't think I could answer these questions for even the major characters in the books I have already written.

But, part of me is wondering if maybe the fact I can't answer them speaks to some flaws in my characterization approach. I don't tend to consider details of my characters that aren't actually related to the story.

So, I guess the question is, to what extent should a writer be able to answer the below for their characters? Even if these things don't appear in the work, do you think knowing characters in this much detail is important?

Name:
One sentence desc:
Motivation (abstract):
Goal(s) (specific):
What's at stake?
External conflicts:
Internal conflicts:
Epiphany/Evolution:
Loves:
Hates:
Secrets/Shames:
Prides/Abilities:
Flaws/Challenges:
Values/Alignment:
Character's basic storyline:
General Info
Birthday / age:
Place of birth:
Parents:
Siblings:
Ethnic background:
Places lived:
Education:
Special training:
Jobs:
Wealth:
Travel:
Friends:
Enemies:
Dating, marriage:
Children:
Physical appearance:
Physical build:
Posture:
Head shape:
Eyes:
Nose:
Mouth:
Hair
Skin:
Tattoos / piercings / scars / etc.:
Voice:
Right- or left-handed:
Handicap:
What you notice first:
Clothing:
Health/disabilities:
Characteristics:
How would character describe self:
Interests and favorites:
Collections, talents:
Political leaning:
Food, drink:
Music:
Books:
Movies:
Sports, recreation:
Color:
Hobbies:
Religious beliefs:
A great gift for this person:
Favorite subject in school:
Pets:
Vehicle:
Emotions
Fears:
Idiosyncrasies:
Typical expressions:
When happy:
When angry:
When sad:
Laughs or jeers at:
Ways to cheer up this person:
Ways to annoy this person:
Hopes and dreams:
Overall outlook on life:
Does this character like him/herself:
Wants to change anything about his/her life?
Is s/he lying to himself about something?
S/he is the kind of person who:
How much self-control and self-discipline does he have:
History
Worst thing ever done and why:
Greatest success:
Biggest trauma:
Cares about most in the world:
Does he have a secret:
Most embarrassing thing that ever happened:
Strongest/weakest character traits:
Other people
People the character admires most:
How is the character viewed by others:
What people like best about him/her:
What people dislike about him/her:
What does this character like best about the other main character(s):
What does this character dislike about the other main character(s):
If s/he could do one thing and succeed at it, what would it be:
Why will the reader sympathize with this character:
Backstory / history:
(details)
Changes over time:
(details)
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
I've been considering for a while. But the only book I wanted to try is a book on how to incorporate history into fiction. It's peer reviewed and costs 83 dollars which I dislike. But it's written by some science fiction and fantasy authors who use history, and interviews some author's approaches to history, as well as it shares some historians worth reading.

Personally I've never been a big fan of 'how to' books. I prefer to find someone who does it right and then try to emulate them. Have you read any James A. Michener. He is a master at incorporating history into fiction. I'd suggest Hawaii, Texas or Alaska.

Thanks for sharing though since that's very extensive and it does seem interesting. I might grab it. So do you have to based on real people or also imagine it? I've been imagining the motivation of my characters based on people I have known.

Not sure you need to buy the book. Lucky set out the character model and the rest you can find if you google snowflake method. For example:

https://blog.reedsy.com/snowflake-method/

I think using people you have known as a basis for characters, is a very good method. Another thing that I do, is base characters on a noteworthy person who I don't know. For example, I needed a lawyer that specializes in corporate law and public company governance. So I found a person who sat on the board of the SEC, by looking at the website. Then I googled the person, and got a Wikipedia page as well as an interview from a magazine. I used a template similar to Lucky's, and I was able to complete quite a bit of the factual characteristics from the bio on the SEC site and Wikipedia. I was also able to surmise a fair bit of the abstract characteristics from the interview.

But either way, I think this template that Lucky provided is a great way to work through character development. At the very least, even if you are not a structured type, it gets you writing if you are having a hard time getting started or stuck.

One thing that has always confused me about his system, is how values are understood. Pitting one value against the next for example. How do you determine something abstract. For example how do you write a conflict based on two values since I am assuming he means that's a way to generate conflict.

For me I am trying to write about people's problems to create conflict. Then I have them be the source of the problem.

I really like your approach here. Aren't we all a source of our own conflict to a degree?
 
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Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
Thanks for this Lucky. It is more comprehensive than the one I am using and I have made a note of it for future character development.

I think it's great to start with something like this, but then leave the door open of course if a characteristic comes to mind, out of the blue as your characters interact. For example, what they like about the other MC.

For me once, I was trying to craft the dialogue for a first date in a restaurant. The first part of the date, as they order and make early pleasantries can sound so boring. But I had the female MC in her mind, be pleased that the male MC ordered a steak (which she loved), because she always felt guilty when she ordered meat while on a date with her ex, who was a vegetarian. Things like that, you might not think about until you have the characters interacting in the setting.


 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
While I used to be a frequent buyer of craft books. This one is from a writer in the field of science fiction and fantasy who uses history and research to write stories. I am not sure it is a how-to book in the sense it is written by someone not qualified to give opinions (which is why I disliked most of them). That's what appeals to me about the book. It's not aimed at mindless people who buy any craft book they find. It's written by someone who knows about writing it seems using this method (and is a historian) and the book is peer reviewed. However, while I am sold on that book I won't buy it until 2 weeks from now. It's to explain how to research history. There's more than one kind of historian. The personal historian who chronicles humanity and their way of life and then there are other kinds (mentioned in the book).

Unfortunately all craft books don't reference other authors or books which is what this book does. It references historians. I dont know what historians to read so that's why I want to purchase it. Because sometimes history is impersonal.

I didn't want to mention it for more than one reason but the obvious reason is that I didn't want to switch the topic from this approach called the snowflake method.

Yes that sort of conflict is me imagining. I am imagining I caused the person's problems or the mc in this case is me as I write the story. That's sort of how I imagine odepius, he was the cause of the plague of his country. It is just an example.

Here's the book in case anyone is interested since it's from a historian and in case anyone wants to read it: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B076BTLZJ5/?tag=writingforu06-20
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
I am using some form of planning for characters next time I sit near the computer to type a story. If not snowflake method I will use another method. Some questions are different under a different method: what makes your character happy? What makes your character sad? What is your character's goal (pretty standard)? Why is this their goal(motivation)? What is their darkest secret? What is the worst thing they have done?

Maybe this will maybe make me a planner or work at prewriting. I don't know. The method is simply a set of questions. I have never really planned a character before though I would type some notes which may accomplish the same purpose or end.
 

Lee Messer

Senior Member
I think it looks useful overall. I would be mindful of it's effect on the characters responses. It looks to cause characters to become more reactionary. It's very useful if your stuck, but don't take it too far.

A character should have the ability to develop on one point, but have verbal response or actions based off of this formal template of characterization.

It should be more of a guideline in certain situations, but a hard boundary that cannot be crossed in other situations depending on the strength of the statement made about the character.

For example: Doesn't like heights shouldn't mean avoids rollercoasters to the extent of standing up a date with a potential sex partner. A stronger statement suggests this is likely, but only it's an actual phobia or more extreme based concept which caused the aversion to be unreasonable.

I like it though. Reminds me of RPG character creation. I can see where it is efficient.
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
I think the whole thing rests pretty much on how you think.

The problem with pantsing generally is it can, at least in my case, lead to some fumbling around on occasion, some occasional grasping for where to go with this. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with it because while I love the pure on-the-fly imagination of making it up as I go, the reality is there's a gamble involved. The stories I have abandoned have been ones where I was doing incredibly well and then got tied in knots, not for lack of ideas but an excess of them.

Some people thrive with pantsing, others fuck it up entirely. I consider myself somewhere in the middle: It can go either way for me, and while I can usually get there in the end, I find it incredibly inefficient to have to go through so many redrafts and basically drive myself nuts every time trying to resolve everything through lengthy trial-and-error. Worse still, I find myself cutting corners on characters to the point I will sometimes find myself totally forgetting important details about them, especially the more minor ones. One guy in my last novel changed hair color three times because, frankly, I put hardly any thought into his design. These are silly little problems that undoubtedly have knock on effects because if you can't even remember the basic stuff, you don't really have a character but a shell.

My usual process is to write a skeleton synopsis of the basic idea, a kind of elevator 'what's your book about?' summary from start to end. This solves a lot of the major plot problems -- I never really have a problem with the main plot -- but doesn't address much about the characters or the details of scenes and subplots and stuff. Those things are still pure pants-a-rama and I have to write myself through the problem. Which, again, is usually doable but it takes too long.

My goal is to get to a place where I can write a full, high quality first draft safely within a month, rewrite it, say, within the following month, and be done with the whole thing in close to exactly three months.

I would prefer not to have to rewrite things more than two times. I hate the idea of having no choice but to invest a year or more into a single project. There's simply no reason for that, in my opinion. Right now my approximate rate is, like, 1-2 books a year at around 80,000 words. Last year when I only wrote short stories, I wrote close to fifty stories averaging at around 5,000. Based on word count, my novel writing sucks.

I see no reason why that should be the case.

That's why the snowflake method appeals, I guess! It's not that I want writing to be formulaic but I do want it to be methodical and efficient. I don't want to spin wheels unnecessarily. I think approaching the process more scientifically makes sense for that goal.
 

Bayview

WF Veterans
I'm another who could answer most of those questions for characters AFTER I've written them, but could answer very few BEFORE I've written them.
 
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