Character Study Part 2

What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Character Study Part 2: Character Development

Our characters are complete fiction. Figments of our imaginations. Without us, they don’t exist. Yet they hold the power to take over our stories regardless of what we, as writers, want. We create them to be strong individuals with strong personalities, and before we realize it, these strong personalities take over.

When creating a character, where do you start?

Is it with their background? Is their personal history mapped out before you start writing? We know their current emotional conflict is important, but what about their backgrounds?

Do you create their motivation before you create their physical description?

For some reason, once I start a character outline, their physical description just happens. I never put too much thought into what they look like. They just appear in my head.

What about values? Do you list their values above their fears?

Do you spend as much time working on their bad traits as you do their good? Or vice-versa?

Do all your characters share an underlining trait?

When you have it all on paper, are you capable if summing up their personality in one word? How about three?

I’d love to hear your process.

13 thoughts on “Character Study Part 2

  • When creating a character, where do you start?

    My answer to this question would have to be two part, because my method for determining my MC and supporting characters are different.

    For my MC: I start with conflict. I ask the what if question without it being attached to a character. Then, unconsciously, my mind selects the right character to best personify that conflict and the corresponding character flaws that are generally associated with those flawed traits. Not in terms of a cliché character, but in terms of ingrained personality types.

    For my supporting characters, I chose a personality type that will directly expose, attack, or personify the MC – think of the MC’s flaws on steroids. Then I view that character through the MC’s eyes to develop the character into the antagonist, nemesis, or friend. I discussed this in a little further detail a while back here.

    http://darksculptures.wordpress.com/2009/10/28/sonya-sonier/

    Do all your characters share an underlining trait?

    Most of my characters have a certain amount of underlying anxiety disorder. Because I’m familiar with those feelings and how they can be twisted to control your life.

    Are you capable if summing up their personality in one word? How about three?
    My response here is more a flaw than an actual personality type. Many personalities can stem from this flaw. – Fearful of failure

    These are good questions and deserve to further exploration. If you don’t mind I think I’ll use them for a future post and link back to this conversation for my springboard.

    • Of course, feel free to link. I’m sure your post will be much more in-depth than mine. I was a little medicated when I wrote this. I read it now and it seems like an unfinished thought.
      Lesson learned. One should not blog while on pain medication. 🙂

      • Yeah, read anything I wrote during 2009. LOL

        I didn’t mean that you should explore it further. I meant I need to explore why my process is the way it is and if there is a sufficient balance between creative inspiration and my logical thinking that has driven me to write with such a systematic approach.

  • I wish I could answer your questions but to be honest, I don’t have enough experience in this area to have any process worked out.

    I fly by the seat of my pants when I write.

    • I usually fly by the seat of my pants too. Now I’m trying to be more careful. It’s hard, this writing stuff. 🙂

  • You’re in my head again. 😉
    I just finished reading over my first draft and now I need to do a bunch of character work. Usually, I do a ton of freewriting, profile sheets, or random questions on each of my characters before I even begin working on the story. But I’ve always had so much trouble with plot and story arc and getting worn before I finish that this time I just jumped in with just the vaguest hint of my characters in my head. Just their (my 2 main characters) profession and a whisper of their voices. I was able to focus on the shape of my story more, but now I need to go back and fill in all those blanks. I usually enjoy the process, but I’m not even sure where to start this time. So I guess the answer is that I don’t really have any trends when it comes to character development.

    • I had some a pretty solid process–and I thought some pretty solid characters but now I’m second guessing. I guess critiques will do that. I’m trying not to feed into the criticism of those that just simple don’t like that type of character.

  • You’re in my head, too!

    I’ve been reading Bird by Bird and she has several chapters on developing character. Her thought is that character should come before plot and that plot should only flow out of character. I know there are other ways to write, for sure, but I like her thinking on this because for me, my characters have always been pretty weak. So I’ve been trying Lamott’s method for a bit to see how it goes.

    As for what I do, well, for now I am doing what she suggests. Just write one paragraph. I am focusing on those write now, because I have so many fragments of characters in my mind, I want to just get them out and then start asking them the question, What’s most important to you? Then I will go from there.

    Not a very developed answer, but I am still working all this out.

    • The more I work on DE the more I wish I would’ve put more thought into it before I started writing. Next time I will do more prep work before I start writing.
      Right now I feel like DE resembles chopped liver. I’m made so many changes I’m not sure which is up and which is down. 🙂 Hopefully I haven’t completely destroyed it by trying to fix it.

  • I’m realizing that what my characters have in common is a lack of introspection and that that is what develops — I hope — over the course of the narrative.

    Yikes. I believe this is a case of art imitating life.

    • Where’s the edit button??

      Let me rewrite that initial sentence: I’m realizing that what my characters have in common is a lack of introspection and that SELF-KNOWLEDGE is what develops — I hope — over the course of the narrative.

  • I have been thinking about this for the past week. I’m still so new at writing that I haven’t developed a method yet. It seems like for the short stories I write, I have a vague idea of the character, but they develop as I write the story line. I’m trying to be more regimented with the novel I am writing by using the character development stratagies I have learned from KM Weiland’s Creating Unforgetable Characters. I have a worksheet for each main character and am answering the series of questions about them pertaining to all the questions you raise above.

  • […] Dayner asked, “When creating a character, where do you start?” […]

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