Monday, August 15, 2011

How to Build Fictional Characters


As writers of fiction, it's so important to create characters that are believable. How do you do that when technically the characters don't exist?

Writer's use different strategies for creating believable characters. Over the years, I've played with a few strategies, running from some and embracing others. However, even the ones that I've run from are not without merit. They work for some writers. Just not me.

After playing with character charts are questionnaires, I've settled on my favorite way to create characters. I write a first person letter to me in my characters POV. At first, the letter is pretty basic and dry. I just give information like, "I was born in Boston Massachusetts right after they started working on The Big Dig." Quite honestly, the first few pages of my letter I suffer through. I just want to create a visual image of a generic person in my head so I can get to the good stuff. Once all the boring stuff is taken care of, i.e. high school attended, siblings, etc, I start to get to the good stuff. After I have my mannequin of a character, I can start dressing him/her.

From page 3 to however long it takes me, I start filling in details. Usually at this point I've flexed my muscles a little, I'm writing, and words just start pouring out of me and my character is taking shape. Not the basics. The good stuff. This is where I learn that my hero had a huge crush on his older sister's best friend when he was 14 because instead of going home when his sister got on the phone and started arguing with her boyfriend, she used to hang out on the porch with him and eat Cheese Puffs while they talked. Or that his first time out in the field as a cop he'd made a colossal rookie mistake that almost cost him his life. Or that he can't stand wearing shoes and will walk around in sandals or in his bare feet. You get the picture.

These details are details you can't get from a character chart or questionnaire. I can't look at question 35 and answer that my character has suffered from asthma since childhood unless I know a story that goes with it. The jewel in all this is that much of this back story not only helps round out the character and make them seem real, it helps me build scenes to use in my story.

How do you build fictional characters? What tools and strategies do you use?

Until next time,
Lisa

http://lisamondello.blogspot.com

5 comments:

  1. Hi Lisa:

    Here’s how I do it.

    The story always comes first. I’m a storyteller. So I start with the best story idea. What would make a great story?

    For example: What would happen if there was a cosmic ‘black moment’ and the universe exploded and all the characters in romance novels got knocked out of their novels and became mixed up with the real people. Everyone has partial amnesia and no one knows or can prove who is real and who is fictional.

    When I have what I think is a great story idea, I work on a plot that will carry that idea to fulfillment.

    For example: like in the "Wizard of Oz", all my characters want to get back home and back to normal. In that quest they have many adventures. Each chapter should have an amazing event and memorable characters.

    With a plot that will work and carry my story idea, I go to ‘central casting’ and select the idea actors (characters) to make my story come alive. Casting the story is one of the most important parts of storytelling. Characters must be right for the story. Characters are not allowed to get out of control. If they do, to the detriment of the story, I fire them and go back to central casting. There is an infinite variety of out of work characters and they all work for free!

    Everything is subservient to the needs of the story. Any character that Divas, is gone. The mission comes first.

    So before I write the first word, I believe I have a great story idea, I have a plot that will instantiate that idea, and I have the best characters to people that story. I know where I am going and I know the idea will work.

    If I get writer’s block, I just detour around it, and keep on writing.

    My one problem: editing and revising. My example book above, “Characters in a Romance”, is 120,000 words long in the first draft. The idea of editing all that, when I could be experiencing the supreme joy of writing another great story, is truly dampening. Editing is like grunt work. If only I enjoyed editing.

    Vince

    ReplyDelete
  2. Vince I want you to write that story. The Universe explodes and all romance novel characters got knocked out of their novels and became mixed up as real people! LOVE IT!

    I actually like revising. It's a different mindset than creating a first draft. A first draft is freeing and wonderful discovery. Editing is honing and sharpening and making that rough piece of clay I've cut into more polished and shiny. And then I just like being done. LOL

    ReplyDelete
  3. Vince I want you to write that story. The Universe explodes and all romance novel characters got knocked out of their novels and became mixed up as real people! LOVE IT!

    I actually like revising. It's a different mindset than creating a first draft. A first draft is freeing and wonderful discovery. Editing is honing and sharpening and making that rough piece of clay I've cut into more polished and shiny. And then I just like being done. LOL

    ReplyDelete
  4. Lisa, I do this same thing. Write a journal. I start when they're children. it really helps me, too.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi Lisa:

    Do you know what they call a writer who loves to revise and edit?

    A published author.

    Vince

    ReplyDelete