Friday, April 2, 2010

Roundtable Discussion: Character Development

Sorry folks, no guest spot today. (By the way-- if you're interested in writing a guest spot, we still need people! Email us at alliteratiarchives[at]gmail[dot]com.

Today we'd thought we'd introduce a semi-regular feature: roundtable discussions.

Today's topic is: character development. Tell us, and discuss-- how do you come up with (and develop) your characters?


L. T. Host said...

I personally have my characters come to me in pieces. Generally, they have features about them that are critical to the plot, and therefore develop more as the plot develops more. It's kind of a scientific approach, but it's worked (for me) so far!

I don't usually do long background sketches unless I need to batten down events that happened prior to the telling of my story-- I can typically keep their history in my head more effectively.

Joshua McCune said...

LT, I have a somewhat similar take. Characters start off rough and then come to life w/ the story. Which means I've got to do some editing along the way to ensure consistency -- usually this isn't too bad b/c my characters tend to be amalgams of people I know :)

Matthew Delman said...

It should come as no surprise to anyone that I find myself doing reams of background work on my characters. Right now, as L.T. well knows, I'm writing out one of many short stories to detail some of the salient events in my MC's history.

The same thing will be done for several of the other secondary characters in the story. Mostly because I'm the research nerd and I like having stuff written down in front of me.

There's currently two binders full of background worldbuilding on my previous story sitting around. Shows you how much work I actually do.

L. T. Host said...

Bane-- I have to go back and edit, too. But I actually don't tend to write people I know. I think my MC's always have a little bit of me in them because, well, write what you know-- but my other cast tends to be themselves wholly. At least on a conscious level. I'm sure on an subconscious one they are totally my neighbor, etc. :)

Matt-- two binders! Dang!

L. T. Host said...

*a subconscious

Joshua McCune said...

Yeah, a lot of it comes from internal experience (subconscious or otherwise)... perception/observation of myself, others, right/wrong, etc. Keeps it grounded.

For the most part, I keep the notes in my head, which might explain why I can become considerably grumpy when I'm mid-story :)

Jemi Fraser said...

I don't do a lot of writing before I actually start the ms. I let the characters walk around in my head for a few weeks before I start. I don't actively think about them too much - I just let them wander a bit. Once I start writing, I seem to know them pretty well. :)

Rick Daley said...

Sometimes the characters drive the story, sometimes the story drives the characters. It's different with each MS so far.

For RUDY TOOT-TOOT, I came up with the character - a gassy little boy who was born on a bean farm - way in advance of writing the story. The story came out in sections, too. I didn't have a full story arc and no real idea of where it was going to go for a long time. Now it's on submission, so please cross your fingers and wish me luck!

For FATE'S GUARDIAN, I knew the themes and general concept of the story - a man has to die to save his soul - and build characters around it. I wrote our 1-page sketches for the main characters, and even built a spreadsheet with timelines marking birth and death for all major and minor characters so I would be consistent.

L. T. Host said...

Jemi-- that's what I'm finding myself doing with my current project. They're definitely a-walkin' around between the times I have where I can actually write.

Rick-- It's good to be flexible-- and of course I have my fingers crossed for you! Glad RTT finally came together for you.

Stephanie Thornton said...

Ugh! I posted a big long comment and it didn't stick. Grrrr...

I tend to write characters as they pop into my head- no dossiers or anything. And occasionally I have to have a chat with them to figure out what they'd really do in a particular situation. Sometimes it works!

dolorah said...

I do a little of all this. My MC's for the trilogy percolated in my head for a while as I tried on different personalities and histories for them. As soon as they hit the page, I started revising their backstory to fit where the story was going. Or, editing the story because I won't compromise on a character trait.

I had to write character profiles to keep certain critical information handy for time lines and such. By the third novel, my character studies have become short stories in themselves.

For this new one - a fantasy - I have nothing to draw on for her, so I am basically developing her as I write. I forsee a tremendous amount of editing and revising in my future as I research her and write the scenes.

Its going very slow for that reason.

Rick: I have my fingers and toes crossed for you on Rudy. I have faith it will be snatched right up.


Libbie H. said...

Great topic!! I apologize for the epic longness of this comment -- this is one of my favorite subjects.

I feel pretty strongly that all characters we writers create are just bits and pieces of our own psyche. In order to convey what a character is doing (or, more accurately, WHY a character is doing what she's doing) we need to understand what she is feeling. We can't understand what she is feeling unless we understand, or at least accept, our own feelings and reactions.

I have a secondary character in my finished novel that starts out optimistic enough, but as the story builds she begins to fall apart. She has one important thing after another taken from her, and goes from being a confident and relatively happy young woman to an angry young woman, to being motivated almost entirely by bitterness and a desire for revenge. She becomes a bit paranoid, and finally ends as a tragic figure, made so helpless by the bonds of societal expectation and duty to state that her spirit is totally broken, and she is easily shattered by the climax of the novel.

Beta readers have told me she's a great antagonist. And she is the antagonist of the book. But she's also the most real character in the book in my opinion, and my favorite of all my characters to date.

I like her so well, I think, because I allowed myself to really get into her head -- and to really let her inside my head -- as I wrote.

I've never experienced the things she's gone through. Even though I couldn't understand specifically what she faced, I could understand it in broader terms. I have felt anger toward other people so strong that I was consumed by thoughts of vengeance for months at a time. It's not one of my proudest moments. It was hard to admit to myself that I was ever as petty or angry as I needed my antagonist to be. But I was. I really was. Once I acknowledged this fact, it was easy to tap the keg and allow all that viscous black emotion to flow. I think if I'd held back at all -- if I tried to put up a buffer between myself and my character, to preserve my own dignity -- she wouldn't be the memorable antagonist she is. She wouldn't be real.

Ever since the experience of writing this character, I've come to see that all the characters I create are just parts of my own emotions given faces and flesh.

I doubt whether I'm capable at all of making a character that isn't based on a specific part of me. I don't do any of the usual character-building stuff that is often suggested to writers. I don't make up character sheets, I don't "interview" them, I don't worry about their backstory unless it relates directly to the story I'm telling now.

When I write a scene that develops character, I ask myself: "When did I feel this emotion? How did I react externally and internally? What did this feeling make me wish I could do? Why did I inhibit myself -- or didn't I? If I lived this emotion again, what would I do differently?"

Personally, I think that's the only character development a writer needs. :)