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How Do You Create A Character (1 Viewer)

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TheMightyAz

Staff member
Mentor
I'll add 'in general', because sometimes we do a bit of both, and sometimes you want your character NOT to do what you would expect. Or their may be other ways I've not considered. I tend to use (1) most of the time with a little of (2) thrown in sometimes:

(1) You take a blank character (no features, no traits, no mannerisms, nothing), just a blank canvas, rather like the pod people in The Body Snatchers before they adopt the characteristics of the person they're cloning. You have your plot and main events you want to hit along the way, as well as (hopefully) the end. You then push your character through the story, attributing characteristics to the character they require in order to fulfil your plot needs, as well as adding in any possible conflict points. Once your character has gone through that process, you begin to add those characteristics into your next draft.

(2) You take a fully fleshed out character, sit them in a room and say 'go!'. You have plot points and events you want to hit, but adjust them according to what the character would do, rather than the other way around as in example (1).

An example would be:

Character (1): Just a blank canvas walks down a main street. He sees a bus coming up the road and a child stepping off the curb. This is where the character gets his new trait. If he dashes to grab the child and save it, he becomes a hero, giving you clues to how he would perhaps look and act earlier on in the story. He might be more confident, stride not walk, have a set and determined look. If he decides he can't help, he'll be forever burdened with guilt, meaning he may have weakness in his demeanour early on. Both throw up interesting possibilities, although I'd prefer the latter myself.

Character (2): You already know whether your character is a hero or whether he'll be guilt ridden from that point onward. He either saves the child or he doesn't and neither is of any surprise to you the writer because you've already fleshed him out in your head or on paper.

Both characters can throw up unexpected and interesting consequences/changes/conflicts. The only real difference is, one is shaped by events and the other shapes events. As I said, I incline towards the events shaping my character, although sometimes I do like to know how the character will react to a scene I've already planned out in my head. I'm pretty sure 'a bit of both' is going to be the norm but which would you lean on more heavily?

I think either is suitable for a pantser or a planner so consider it a separate question.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
Characters arrive in my head as fully formed people, and they grow as I learn their stories. I get to know them before anything is written. IMO a forced construction would seem two-dimensional and false, so I prefer an organic approach.
 

TheMightyAz

Staff member
Mentor
Characters arrive in my head as fully formed people, and they grow as I learn their stories. I get to know them before anything is written. IMO a forced construction would seem two-dimensional and false, so I prefer an organic approach.

I found that too restricting in the end, although I still have elements of it. It's interesting because I watch dozens and dozens of videos on writing from a myriad of different writers, and in many cases a lot of them say they don't know their character until the very end of the story. One in particular (can't remember his name) puts letters in instead of names such as 'AAA' or 'ZZZ'. I was listening to George RR Martin talking about him, explaining why he can't use that technique because he has more than 26 characters. lol.
 

VRanger

Staff member
Administrator
Generally, when I start a manuscript I only have a general idea about the main characters and their course through the story. As the MCs encounter situations, I decide how the MCs react and act, which builds their personalities.

I add other characters as their utility is required in scenes. Sometimes they're one-off appearances, and gone. If they recur or wind up assuming major roles, they fill out. The particulars of what fills them has to do with what I need them to say and do. However, as they gain personality aspects, those aspects stay consistent through their remaining appearances.

I sort of "think of it" as the characters taking on a life of their own, but that's only because I initially make decisions about them on the fly. I'm actually thinking it through, I'm just not sitting down and thinking them through as a preparatory process.

As examples, in my upcoming books, one is a PI with a unique problem, and one which curing will reduce his effectiveness solving cases ... but which he'll desperately want to be rid of. By the middle of the book I'll have several important characters, but when I write the first word, I'll only know about the MC and what his problem is.

In the ghost story I have planned, I'm way ahead. I know about four characters: the MC, the ghost, a murder victim of the ghost when he was alive, and the murder victim's granddaughter. However, they don't have any personalities yet. That will come.

To break my rule, I had a list of 40 potential characters in my just completed, but personality decisions came as I actually introduced them. If I ever write a puzzle mystery, I'll have to define a cast before I start, and know much more about them, because you need a list of suspects and why they are suspects. You need associates of the suspects to glean information from, and you need a victim. I can leave the investigator somewhat flexible through the first few chapters, but then he'll be set.
 

Foxee

Patron
Patron
I currently create characters by arguing with myself and looking at them as part of a cast. At least that's what I'm doing for now, who knows how I'll do it in the future. I was sitting in the bathtub thinking about license plates (as you do) when I realized that my MC was going to be female instead of male as expected.

Once I could go change my cast map I went to type "husband" and had this argument with myself:

"He's dead and it's sad"
"No he's not, they're divorced"
"What do you know from divorce? He died."
"Okay, great so the woman's in a coma getting picked on for murder and you're going to put grief over a husband on her, too? You're a jerk."
"I am a jerk but he didn't just leave her, she's not leaveable."
"Everybody's leavable. And she made a mistake with that one. They were only married for about five minutes."
"Okay, so what?"
"She needs his car."
".....damn....you have a point."

And I wrote "Ex-husband".

So...yeah, character design. Just so easy. Next to come up with her name.
 
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indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
I've heard it said that all of our characters - even the ones we don't like, are aspects of ourselves.

I'm unsure if I completely agree, but to write first-person or close-third I have to get inside the character's head, so maybe there's something to it. If so... I'm deeply disturbed.
 

bazz cargo

Retired Supervisor
As I sit here in front of my screen I am a God. A flawed God with Greek Tragedy undertones. I pick and choose and mould and challenge and delight in my power-tripping. From my imagination comes a universe that I can play in. Here I can do anything. Be anybody.
Don't know about the rest of you. Is there anyone else who loves to live on a world they have conjured up?
 

VRanger

Staff member
Administrator
I've heard it said that all of our characters - even the ones we don't like, are aspects of ourselves.

I'm unsure if I completely agree, but to write first-person or close-third I have to get inside the character's head, so maybe there's something to it. If so... I'm deeply disturbed.

I pointed this out before. If all characters are aspects of ourselves, writers like Stephen King and Dean Koontz need to be locked up and kept there.
 

Ajoy

Senior Member
(1) You take a blank character (no features, no traits, no mannerisms, nothing), just a blank canvas, rather like the pod people in The Body Snatchers before they adopt the characteristics of the person they're cloning. You have your plot and main events you want to hit along the way, as well as (hopefully) the end. You then push your character through the story, attributing characteristics to the character they require in order to fulfil your plot needs, as well as adding in any possible conflict points. Once your character has gone through that process, you begin to add those characteristics into your next draft.

(2) You take a fully fleshed out character, sit them in a room and say 'go!'. You have plot points and events you want to hit, but adjust them according to what the character would do, rather than the other way around as in example (1).

I typically do a combination between 1 & 2 as you've described them. My characters are generally developed when I put them into the plot. Then, as I see how they respond to the plot events and each other, the characters becomes more defined and the plot events might have small adjustments accordingly.
 
As I sit here in front of my screen I am a God. A flawed God with Greek Tragedy undertones. I pick and choose and mould and challenge and delight in my power-tripping. From my imagination comes a universe that I can play in. Here I can do anything. Be anybody.
Don't know about the rest of you. Is there anyone else who loves to live on a world they have conjured up?

Absolutely! It is one of the biggest pleasures when i write, to go back into that world and be caught in that world.

To AZ - I often find that characters often lead the event/story rather than the event leading the character. In your boy/bus example, the character you have in that situation should already know what to do otherwise it is not a fully formed character. If i was in that situation i would save the kid, no question, but then there is always this possibility that i may freeze and if the kid gets injured or dies etc, then i will live with the consequences, but in saving the kid i would not feel as though i am any sort of hero ... it is what (i assume) 99% of people would do, it is why i believe a character is already developed and put into a situation.
 

LCLee

Financial Supporter
My characters have something to say. If he wanted to say "Get off my lawn!" I would build from there.
As they develop they become real to me. I worry about them making the right decision and choke up when they have setbacks.
The wife gets up set when I compare her problems to one of my characters. I would spout off, "Andree had that same thing happen when Michael didn't show up on time." The bedroo0m door slams.....
 

PSFoster

Senior Member
What if he runs to save the child but the bus gets there first? Does he feel like he did't
react fast enough or would he think, "Well, I tried"?
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
Taken from writing fiction by Edith Wharton and imo is all the advice on character that it mentions.

But the main advantage of the novelist to whom his subject first presents itself in terms of character, either individual or social, is that he can quietly watch his people or his group going about their business, and let the form of his tale grow out of what they are, out of their idiosyncrasies, their humours and their prejudices, instead of fitting a situation onto them before he really knows them, either personally or collectively.

So before you write a character. Focus on their prejudices. Write it down in a notebook. Their unique idiosyncrasies whatever it may be. What they like and dislike to do, attitudes, and beliefs. Remember expressions they say.

It says conflict grows out of character and not situation. Whatever this means to you could be observe people and write what makes them unique and their peculiaritues. Maybe what their hobbies are. Make the conflict out of their prejudice etc.

This book was recommended by the modern library workshop by Stephen koch. Wharton 's book argues the best novels emerged as character studies. That is this is written by Edith Wharton.

I bought this recommended book by the library workshop book. I will buy Somerset 's notebook at some point which was printed or his journal since it was recommended. Supposedly it teaches how to keep a notebook. Also, he wrote down, observed, and recorded what people said.

A Writer's Notebook (Vintage International)
by W. Somerset Maugham

Situation based conflict novels are rare and Wharton argues themajority of the novels are character based because of how it was received by critics. She mentions Proust and Tolstoy. She also was the first woman to win a Pulitzer.
 
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