Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Determining your characters

So many of us know the importance of finding that perfect main character. The one we take time to mold, describing in detail their clothing, eyes, body type, the foods they like to eat. As a reader not all of this will matter but to a writer every little piece of this persons life must fit like a glove. They don't need to know that your character hates corn however it might have extreme relevance to why she freaks when she is kidnapped and taken into corn fields. Yes the kidnapping itself is horrifying but then to be trapped around corn! What insanity?!

Of course that was a terrible example, but you can see now why knowing your character is very important. I'm always curious to find out how a fellow writer has come to find their character. When writing the story to you just chose a male or female and run with it? As you're writing the novel does she/he just evolve and later you go back and work in the little details?

I normally allow my characters time to mold. I start off with the basics, eye color, hair color and build. I write as me and work into their personality. I have a ton of rewrites when the novel is complete but I want to really get to know my character. E. Elle does something I love on her blog, she writes from her characters perspective as an excersize. It's a wonderful read and it helps her get in touch with her characters. I have recently given it a go and I love it. It really helps me get to know them, their good side, evil sides, every aspect of them.

So how do you find your character? Is it a celebrity you choose? Do you use a nearby friend to gather up all the details? Or just a stranger in the park? Are you a molder where you work on the character while you write, or are they already set up?

I'll tell you quickly that my main character wasn't molded completely until one morning the hubs and I went to Habitat for Humanity to paint houses for the local community. I spotted this red hair, average looking and perfect for my story. It was then I realized she was my main character. You can find them in the strangest places!


Jan Morrison said...

Hi Jen - I'm never sure where mine come from but I know them by who they aren't. I have a physical idea of them but I don't give that to the readers except in the most general of ways - more like gestures 'Kitty wrapped a piece of hair around her finger and thought about her answer' kind of thing. I have a sense of their energy first of all then I suppose I build on that. Their psychological portrait is very complete - again for me - how much hits the page or how it hits the page varies. I am very surprised that in one of my wips the protagonist is so unlike me. fun.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I blogged on this like four days ago! Isn't it weird how things like that travel through blog-land? :) I don't do the preplanned character thing, personally, my characters just sort of... happen. Main ones included. Rarely are they based off of anyone/thing I actually know, though.

Candyland said...

My characters are pieces of my friends/family that I kind of built upon.

Clara said...

That is so cool! I will definetly try this exercize! My main character was inspired by a national geographic cover of a little arab girl. Its quite an old picture but she had piercing green eyes that showed wilderness at a tender age. I knew that was my character.

Amy Saia said...

I imagine the more books each of write, the harder it will be to create new characters. I'm like you—I see someone and it sparks a connection, and sometimes I let them reveal themselves along the way.

Vicki Rocho said...

No, no! Not the cornfield! ANYWHERE but the cornfield! AAAAAAAAAAUUUUUUUUUGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH!

Whew...had a flashback there. hahahaha! I kinda start as me (or as a friend) and work my way in...kinda like wiggling into a tight pair of jeans. A little bit at a time!

Creepy Query Girl said...

I find them in much the same way you do. I start out with a name, physical appearance and then just discover their reactions to things as the scenes unfold and its almost like getting to know someone in real life! By the end of the first draft, I know them pretty well and can use the details I've discovered to go back and incoporate more of their personality in the earlier pages.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I use the book GETTING INTO CHARACTER by Brandilyn Collins to get to know my characters (the majors ones at least). It's a lot of work, but worth it. I know my characters better than I would have from just filling in some questionnaire. I figure out the main characters, and that helps guide the story as I work on the outline. :)

JustineDell said...

My characters come lock-stock-and barrel. If anything, they mold

Seriously, though. Before my story even gets put on page I know the ins and outs of my H/H. For me, that's where the story starts. I have to know who they are before I can even begin.

Good post!


Renae said...

Great blog...just started following.

I'm laughing right now because I have done the same thing. My husband was scolding me for staring, but this girl was perfect for a character. The hair, eye color, everything. When I told him what I was doing, he quickly hearded me to another isle.

I swear it wasn't as bad as he made it sound. You're right, you never know where the inspiration will come from.

Matthew Rush said...

"I normally allow my characters time to mold." That sounded so funny, I know what you meant but I still had to snort!

Personally I build my character out of pieces of people I know, then try to make them cooler.

Jaydee Morgan said...

I start with a pretty good idea of who my main character is - which I develop more fully during the outline stage. I'm not big on describing my characters physically - I tend to focus on who they are psychologically. I'd rather leave how they "look" to the reader.

Christina Lee said...

Interesting question. I am just influenced by regular people as well!

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

I people watch a lot. So that helps me mold characters.

I also take bits and pieces of personalities from my friends and family.

And of course, there are a few celebrities I might steal a trait or two from.

Joanne said...

My characters aren't based on anyone in particular. They just seem to form to fit the role and situations they are in. I do keep a journal for writing projects, logging notes on character development, that sort of thing, and build as the story goes.

The Alliterative Allomorph said...

Hmm, interesting question. I've never actually thought about it before. I guess they just come to me. I suppose once I've figured out their motive and what situation they are in at the beginning of the story, their character pretty much falls into place once I have outlined their background and the other characters in their life. Geez, I don't think that was even a comprehensible answer. See, what? Character? What's a character? Oh, that. Yeah, um, what were you saying again?

Laura Pauling said...

I mold my characters around what I need for my plot and what kind of personality fits best with my plot. And they definitely evolve over the first draft.

The English Writer said...

Fantastic Jen, what a great post. Ironically, I've chosen to blog about my new leading lady today so your post inspired me. I get my inspiration for females in different places to the male. The male role has a blueprint - Tom Delonge from Blink 182/Angels and Airwaves, he doesn't necessarily look like him, or clown about like him, but the height thing and hair is always kind of there. Although there have been exceptions to this. The female is more difficult for me, as she's usually the most important so she has to be just right, and this can take months - I'm right there now, and very happy xx

Crystal Cook said...

I love to talk character! I think mine just start with something that is unique, some situation they've got themselves in. Then as i see the situation unfold I discover more about them just by how they act. Mine usually just pop in my head, but the getting to know them, takes some time :)

KarenG said...

Holy Crap Girl! You're nearly to 500 followers! Amazing! Anyway, what I write is character-driven so they're really important to me. Even the minor characters need to come alive on the page. If they don't I give them more to do.

Also, Jen, I've got a contest going on at my blog. Come check it out!

Jen said...

Jan - I find the more I mold a character the less and less they are like me. At the beginning I think they all start the same, my personality, my way of thinking but then they grasp what's most important to them and I realize I don't want me in the book!

Bethany - How funny!! I've noticed it's been characters and word count this week! Guess we are all secretly in one another's minds! My characters are just given to me and sometimes down the road I find a girl who matches her completely.

Candyland - I think it's great when you have a method that works!

Clara - The feeling of knowing that's the one is so neat!! Especially when there is that one distinct feature that pops out!

Amy - I love it! I think I should go for a walk in the park this weekend and see if I can find any new characters walking their dogs! I love to be inspired!

Vicki - You crack me up! You're hysterical on the jeans comment, because it's so true!! Oh the corn fields... memories! I must say that I use the fields in my stories and the land quite frequently, it's a comfort of mine I suppose!

Creepy Query Girl - Sometimes it's best to learn along the way!

Stina - Looks like at B&N this weekend I'll be checking this book out!

Justine - If I molded my character before writing I'd never get anywhere! I think it's so neat how all of us work differently!

Renae - Thank you for visiting! I look forward to stopping by your blog! I have to say that my husband is slowly becoming more accepting of it! He still doesn't understand it but he appreciates that one day this could be my profession! *fingers crossed*

Matthew - Glad I was able to amuse you on this wonderful wednesday morning!

Jaydee - I couldn't agree more, I obviously have an image of my character but I like the reader guessing and imagining a girl of their very own. I keep it open ended though I know who would really fill the spot!

Christina Lee - Sometimes the regulars are the best for the job!

Karen - Sounds like you have it down!! People watching is the best!

Joanne - Having a plan always helps!

Jessica - You're hilarioius! I would say mine come to me too, at the beginning I don't know much about them, they're like a new friend, you ask simple questions and learn the rest as you move forward.

Laura - Evolving is great. I learn so much from my characters when the first draft is complete.

The English Writer - I'm glad I could inspire! I also can't wait to hop over onto your blog and see what you've done! Sounds fantastic! I love molding our new characters!!

Jen said...

Crystal - You have some great characters, and so far I'm loving their names as well!! Finding the perfect character is an awesome feeling!

Karen G - I'm not a character driven writer, or maybe I am? Gosh I should probably know this shouldn't I! I am glad that it works for you, and I think I might start watching to see how my characters really come about!

I know I'm so excited that I'm so close! I can't believe all the blog love! I plan on having a huge 500 follower contest!! It's going to be Epic! Just you wait!

Checking out your contest now!

Jenna Wallace said...

I recently met my character at a party. I already had an idea of who my character was, or more like what she needed to be for the piece to work, but it wasn't quite gelling. When I met this woman, lightbulbs went off and I knew exactly who my character needed to be. She immediately went from 2-dimensional to living, breathing 3-dimensional.

~Nicole Ducleroir~ said...

My main characters come to me in a flash, similar to catching the glimpse of a reflection in a store front window. As I write about them, they whisper to me until I've learned as much as I can about them (a process that never truly ends). At one point, I realize the flash of a reflection looks more like a film in HD.

Great post!

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

My MC came to me pretty much as they are. I don't know where they came from, but one day they whispered. I did do some of those character sheets half-way through my first edit. But other than that, I knew everything.
I'm not sure if it'll work the same next time though.

Theresa Milstein said...

I'm like you. I think about looks, problem, motivation, voice, and go from there. Sometimes they look like someone from TV, but never anyone too famous. Sometimes I make them up. Building character by character, place by place, problem by problem, is so much fun.

Jen said...

Jenna - What a fun experience!! Did you talk to her? Ask her a million uncomfortable questions until you were escorted off the premises?

Nicole - Your way sounds so much more fancy than mine!!! Maybe one day I'll be that great. ;)

Lindsay - I love the whispers, I never know what they look like from there so they do need work, but they speak and I listen, they're my favorite kind of character.

Theresa - You are so right!! Making characters is fun!

Christ is Write. said...

Honestly, I have no idea. They just happen. I've done a few character charts, but they usually take a while and I end up changing a few details throughout the story anyway.

I guess most of the time I think of a basic sketch of the plot - the girl is moving from here to here and she's had this type of lifestyle - and then the character creates herself from there. What would be more interesting? An outgoing girl that moves to a new town and joins the popular crowd, or a shy girl that's afraid of moving to a new town but somehow gets accepted by the popular crowd? Of course, I would never use that plotline - it's been done way too many times. But you get the idea.

I'm also considering doing voice journals as James Scott Bell has suggested. What you do is start from your character's perspective and just write as them. Don't stop for like five minutes.


MT said...

I like to take a mix of people (including myself) and mesh them into my character. Being a people watcher helps. I like looking for the little unique details of people all around - personable details, as well as physical.
Have a great night! :)

Talli Roland said...

I'm like you, Jen - my characters grow with the writing. It's like they're growing up with me!

Jackee said...

Cool! My characters pop into my head with a detailed sketch and then from there I make them form into dimensional people by writing 100 things (or more) about each one. It's all over place, the things I come up with then.

However, as you can tell from my last post, I'm losing whom some of the secondary characters are becoming so I'm definitely going to try the writing from their perspective thing!

Happy Wednesday!

Melissa said...

I try to pull traits from different people. And I like to "people watch".

I started out with a rough idea of what my mc was like, but she really didn't come to life until I was a few chapters in my WIP.

Gina Leigh Maxwell said...

Interesting post, Jen!

As for me, my characters and their storyline kind of popped into my head one day when I asked myself the question "who would be complete paranormal opposites in a dating sense?" After that, they pretty much told me who they were and I just had to listen, but I did know them very well (due to hours of mentally obsessing) before I put them on paper.

As for their physical attributes, I have a general idea of what I want them to look like and then I scour the model and celebrity pool to find the exact someone who brings that idea into sharper focus for me. I like having that vivid picture in my mind. I do that when I'm reading, too - pick a celebrity I think fits the author's description. :)

Shelley Sly said...

Awesome post! I laughed at the corn example.

My characters all come from different places (as I mentioned in my last blog post, I got the idea for one character from my own reflection.) Like you, I mold my characters for a while before sitting down and writing about them.

Eric W. Trant said...

I describe in bits and pieces, too, not all in one info dump during the first scene.

I also try not to over-describe. If it is not important, I don't mention it.

I hate to bring up King, but in It, I didn't realize one of the kid characters was black until midway through the book.

It's not always necessary to describe your characters to your reader to give them the full impact.

- Eric

Amber Tidd Murphy said...

I like to mold characters based on people I already know -- or people I have met. No one famous... just the ordinary folks.

Using them as a springboard is fun -- especially with semi-attractive boys who would only be so perfect if I could tweak "this or that" certain thing about them. In writing, I can! It's perfect. ;)

Kimberly Franklin said...

I just let my characters come to me and tell me who they are. And I usually don't press them for info until it becomes important to the story. Usually. :) Happy SATC day tomorrow!!

Slushpile Slut said...

My characters start as fragments with their motivation being my central focus!! Then if need be, I divulge their physical peculiarities in little snippets but not all at once and not too much detail. I want something left for the reader's imagination...Not sure if this is good or not but it's what I do :)

Jemi Fraser said...

It all starts with the emotion for me. I know how they feel, how they react, what they want. Then I fill in (some) of the physcial characteristics. The rest fills in as I write.

Anonymous said...

For me, characters are defined by the scenarios they're in. My characters often come in pairs, as my works are romance-heavy. But they're very faint. I "discover" them through writing the first draft. :)

T.J. Carson said...

Ha I stalk famous people and steal their identities, and mold them into who I think they should be. It's fun! You can turn Joe Drug Addict into mr. Suave or Haley Hoe Bag into a princess. :)

Lola Sharp said...

I don't know where they come from. Honestly, I don't. They come to me, they take me on their journey, and I spend the entire first draft getting to know them very well.

I love E.'s posts by her characters. Fun!

Yay you! for doing Habitat for Humanity. :) That good karma handed you a red-headed inspiration on a plywood platter.


Eva said...

I just recently started writing random pieces from my secondary characters because although I felt in touch with my MC, I felt kind of disconnected with everyone else. That helped me figure them out.

My current MC just came to me, she was a manifestation of many things in my life right now. I knew her the second I wrote her name. They haven't all been that easy to figure out though :)

Cheree said...

My characters come to me from a magnitude of places. If I see a characteristic I like, I file it away until it is needed for a character.

I also love seeing a character in real life. I've never seen a MC though, I have seen one of my really minor characters... that was creepy.

Anonymous said...

I'm in revision stage of a short story currently and starting with a character worksheet. So, I'd say my characters develop as I write, and during the revision stage I'll go deeper into the 'corn fields.' I actually thought that was very creative of you!

Susan Fields said...

I think my characters take shape while I'm going through the outline process. Some of it is who they need to be for this particular story, and some of it is who they feel to me like they should be. A lot of times they have characteristics and personality traits that I admire in other people and/or wish that I had.

Jennie Bailey said...

I loved your character with the fear of corn! That made me chortle. ;-) My current character started out based loosely on a friend who was battling an illness. She passed on but will now be breathing her spirit through my pages. She was PERFECT for this WIP. I see her vividly (and have since I started) each time I write.

I think all my characters have started out based loosely on myself or someone I have known before they grow into their own. It's sort of like birthing them then watching them mature on their own very quickly as children tend to do!

I have to admit that I struggle with faults sometimes. Everyone has them, I know. I tend to overlook them in others and magnify them in myself. My characters can reflect this if I'm not careful!