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Thread: What is your method in creating a character?

  1. #1
    I don't obsess! I think intensely. ElisaC's Avatar
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    What is your method in creating a character?

    Since I know that there are probably a billion different ways of going about it, I’m curious. What’s the first thing you do when an idea of a character comes to mind? How do you go about naming them? How do you avoid Mary Sues or Gary Stues? And lastly, how do you develop your characters (primary and secondary) throughout the story?
    And since I posted this thread, I’ll go first

    1. When I get an idea, I write it down as quickly as I can (whether on my phone or a piece of notebook paper). And as time goes on, he or she starts to come alive in my mind. I just keep adding and adding until I feel like I have enough to work with.
    2. When naming a character, I try not to rely too much on the setting or plot. I keep them interesting and unique, but still appropriate. In other words, I let the name say something about the character, and not the other way around.
    3. You’ve all of heard of the method of interviewing your characters in order for you to “dig deeper”? I tried that. Didn’t work. Instead I pretended someone was interviewing me about my character, and therefore I had to describe in my own words, what he or she was like. I found this much easier because, well, who doesn’t get excited about their own stories? I found myself really thinking about who they were while I was explaining to this (imaginary) person who expressed genuine interest in what I was writing.

    Now, enough about me. I’d like to hear some of your thoughts.
    --Elisa

  2. #2
    The Surreal Thing AW Moderator Maryn's Avatar
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    I don't know that I have a method.

    Usually I start with some scene, then figure out what kind of person who be in such a scene. What is it about him (or her) that makes it perfectly sensible for him to be there, doing and saying what he does?

    From there, I can create a background with a few watershed moments which formed him into the guy he is, with this set of strengths and these flaws. I often go back to childhood, and this may not ever appear in the book. It's just good for me to know it.

    After that, I tend to fill out an extensive character bio loosely based on the one in Lajos Egri's excellent "The Art Of Dramatic Writing." I've added material to it which suits me, and some of its categories I ignore.

    By the time I'm half way through the first draft, with the new ideas about character which always seem to arrive as I write, I know more about this man than I do about my friends. I know how he will react to all kinds of situations, and this is enormously helpful.

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  3. #3
    writer, rider, reader...ex-pat! BethS's Avatar
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    I don't write bios or character sheets. I don't give characters psychology quizzes. I don't take them shopping to see what they'd buy. I don't ask them about their childhood. They are born in the story, and that's where they grow, mature, change, and sometimes die. The world of the story is self-contained, like a snow globe, and they never leave it.

    Names either come to me, or I choose them, based on the culture. I usually try to look for names whose root meanings express something about the character's personality or circumstances. This is for my own amusement. The reader will likely never know that one character's name means "cheerful" and another's means "lame."

  4. #4
    Huh. kkbe's Avatar
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    There are methods?

    The gods bequeth characters unto me. I don't know how it works but I know who they are. I know their names, what they think, how they speak, what they do before I write a single word.

    I know. Weirdsmobile.

    ETA: Like for CHERRY. I drove past a street sign, Cherry St. In my head I see a kid, a young male prostitute, looks like a young Steve Yzerman of the Red Wings. That's what he calls himself, his real name is Steve McGuire. First he's a killer. Nope, not a killer, complete opposite. Sweet. He talks funny, mispronounces words. Very endearing. He's an enigma, takes his job very seriously but in other ways he's an innocent. He falls in love with this college professor. His thinking is screwed up, he's gonna kill himself, the guy's name is David Brandt, he's screwed up. . .

    It happens fast like that.
    Last edited by kkbe; 02-11-2013 at 05:39 AM. Reason: my spellign ssux. m-a-l-e, k-a-l-l-i
    From CHERRY:
    He stood looking down at me as if he were considering gutting me right then and there. Meeting his gaze and holding it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, bar fucking none.
    Finally, he took pity on me. Or maybe he really was thirsty.

    /my little blog/

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  5. #5
    resident curmudgeon
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    I either use real people I know well enough to get down on paper accurately, or I just start writing. I do my best not to create characters. I try to let the story do that.

  6. #6
    practical experience, FTW JFitchett92's Avatar
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    My characters appear to me first of all. I see their physical appearance, then I come up with a name that fits. That can take a while as it's all organised in the back of my head long before I start writing. I outline some more detailed features (scars, tattoos, etc.)

    As for development, I take where they are, and put them where I want them. The 'in-between' is the story Example: I have an antagonist who is cunning and manipulative at first, then she becomes powerful and unhinged at the end. The story lies in the middle :P
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  7. #7
    Azarath Metrion Zinthos AshleyEpidemic's Avatar
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    I think of events and how the characters react to them. The characters develop from there.
    So, I have this blog. It's here
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    I tweet too.

  8. #8
    Soldier, Storyteller Linda Adams's Avatar
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    I just toss them into the story. Things happen.
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  9. #9
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin amy--amy's Avatar
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    First of all I get an idea for a story, and then characters seem to pop up everywhere. Quite a few have been loosely based on people (either fictional or real) I saw on TV, but I always add and "detract" things.

    I do fill out character sheets, I found quite a long one online and I tweak it to suit my needs for particular stories/characters.

  10. #10
    I don't obsess! I think intensely. ElisaC's Avatar
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    These are all very interesting responses, but they make me think that the way (or method or whatever) you go about it depends on the kind of story you're writing. For example, if I'm writing some epic, fantasy/action adventure with all sorts of cool, imaginary characters, I be forced to put a little more thought into than if I were write, say, a young adult fic, where any character of mine could easily be an ordinary human being. In that case, coming up with characters would be an easier, simpler task.

  11. #11
    QWERTY!!! IAMWRITER's Avatar
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    When I create a character, if it is a main character the character comes to me first and then I work out a story from then. Minor characters pop up along the way but they are never as fully developed as my main.

    I used to do the character sheets, bios etc. but I think it made me overthink things a bit too much. Currently I'm winging my WIP and it is working out pretty well.

  12. #12
    practical experience, FTW
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    How do I create a character... Hmm...

    Usually, a character congeals in my mind, and the story forms around him or her. Supporting characters appear as necessary. While I'm most comfortable in the fantasy genre, I've played in others, and my method is more or less the same.

    One time, Hubby and I made the mistake of letting another 'writer' in on one of our stories, and this person wanted to pretty much steal the show. In the interest of trying to play nice, Hubby invented a character to counterbalance the Gary Stu/walking god complex character of the other writer's invention. Hubby's off-the-cuff guy ended up so interesting, that we kept him around even after scrubbing the third writer and his character from the story. After some vigorous pantsing, we discovered that Hubby's new character fit very neatly into some previously established intrigue and adventure, and pretty much made the rest of the story.
    I married my co-writer. We shared the fun of writing, now he's in the Navy and I'm at home, rewriting and (theoretically) revising.


    Stationed in Japan and loving it!

  13. #13
    Azarath Metrion Zinthos AshleyEpidemic's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ElisaC View Post
    These are all very interesting responses, but they make me think that the way (or method or whatever) you go about it depends on the kind of story you're writing. For example, if I'm writing some epic, fantasy/action adventure with all sorts of cool, imaginary characters, I be forced to put a little more thought into than if I were write, say, a young adult fic, where any character of mine could easily be an ordinary human being. In that case, coming up with characters would be an easier, simpler task.
    I write fantasy and my characters evolve with the story. I don't know too much about them before I start writing. I think the difference in methods comes from a combination of the style of the writer and what the story needs.

    I'd argue characters no matter what the genre can be just as complex and difficult( or easy) to come up with as any other.
    So, I have this blog. It's here
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    I tweet too.

  14. #14
    Mage Apprentice bunny-gypsy's Avatar
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    I don't know. Usually I just come up with a blurb/summary or logline for the plot first. Then, the characters just appear in the story and grow from there.

    Sometimes, a name helps with figuring out a character's general demeanor and then I set them loose into the story.

    Often, I would cherry-pick and mix traits from real life and movie/tv/cartoon/video game characters to start from, and then let them grow from there.

    As they develop and become more concrete, I then edit the story to fit these changes.

    I tried the character sheets, but I ended up procrastinating and getting bored. I recently found out I like discovering the story and characters as I go, with only a loose plot outline to go from.

  15. #15
    practical experience, FTW ucf612's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Linda Adams View Post
    I just toss them into the story. Things happen.
    Me too. I've tried character profiles and what not but I found I was just making crap up and when it came time for them to actually be in the book they weren't anything like what I made up for the questionnaire. They become who they are as I write them. Which I guess could be a totally wrong way to do it. I'm still learning as I go.
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  16. #16
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin Sister Ray's Avatar
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    I usually come up with a few traits and a vague idea of appearance and toss them into the story. The plot makes me see what they're really like; it molds them into themselves.
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  17. #17
    Creepy Centipede Chasing the Horizon's Avatar
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    This is hard to explain. Sometimes I just start with an image of the character and work out everything else from there, often working backwards to how the character got themselves in the situation I've imagined and why they're reacting to it the way they are (not to mention what sort of place this might be happening in). This early image may or may not end up appearing in the final outline.

    Alternatively, I may already have other characters and a setting, in which case the new character needs to fit with the pre-existing elements. That ends up with me saying something like "I need characters to be captains of the allied pirate ships" or "I need more rogue warriors to fill in the mercenary group". I still come up with an image, but it's fitted to the story.

    As for how these characters go from images to fully-developed personalities in my head, I really don't know. I don't do anything to bring them to life or to understand them. No notes, no character questionnaires, they basically spring fully-formed into their role. Or don't. In which case I start over and keep creating new images until one of them takes on a life of their own.

    I do know my characters very well before I start writing because I run them through dozens of test situations in my head, and then run them through the potential plot events as I'm outlining. But I don't actually write down a single thing about them until I start the draft. That's one reason my outlines couldn't make sense to anyone else; they explain plot events in detail, but give no explanations about who the characters are or why they do what they do because I have it all memorized before I start outlining.

    Sometimes I come up with good characters who don't fit anything I'm working on by accident and store them up for future stories. The male lead of my current work was from a gaslamp fantasy idea I decided not to write. I pulled him out again for a new story. Of course, when I do this I get the fun of trying to make characters and settings which were conceived separately mesh, lol.


    March Editing Goal: 8/10 chapters


  18. #18
    My Protagonists Hate Me Kyla Laufreyson's Avatar
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    I assign them a name and like one trait. Then they do whatever they want and determine the rest of their personality on their own.
    Elegy - YA horror - 40,000/80,000 words
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    Weeping -- adult fantasy -- soon to be revised

  19. #19
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Before I started my current WIP, I thought about my main character for about a month. I had conversations with him in the car, while showering, before bed. By the time I sat down to write, I knew this guy really well. I develop minor characters as I go along.

  20. #20
    A woman said to write like a man. Plot Device's Avatar
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    I never thought about the full process involved in the genesis of my various characters. I honestly don't believe I have any one specific way in which I create them.

    I will say my current WIP (a novel) has an MC inspired by Mark Wahlberg. And my female MC in the same WIP was inspired in part by a real life Amish girl I saw in a documentary, and also in part by the actress Alana De La Garza. I confess it was less her personallity that inspired me, and more her overall looks.

    I think maybe I tend to imagine my stories as screenplays (I do write screenplays) and so I tend to cast the charactersin my head with real life actors to fit the storyline.

    My one screenplay started off with a Main Protag who was kind of a sad, whipped puppy of a schmuck. And so I at first envisioned Nicolas Cage, and I wrote my dialogue for that character in keeping with my general perceptions of a typical whipped puppy Nicolas Cage role. Then as I kept evolving my drafts, that Main Protag started getting a little less sad and a little more funny and even a little cranky, so I switched to Adam Sandler. Then he eventually shed his crankiness and started getting downright slapstick, so I switched to Jim Carrey. My final vision of him is STILL Jim Carrey (with Brendan Fraser as an alternate ).

    Meanwhile, when it comes to supporting characters, I only sometimes cast the various supporting characters in my head with real life actors.
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  21. #21
    Go For Apprentice
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    I type out a fairly long character profile detailing backstory and all their nuances, and then I create a problem that shakes their old lifestyle and world views, and then have them come out of it changed in some way. And then write until they reach the next pinch.

  22. #22
    resident curmudgeon
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    Quote Originally Posted by ElisaC View Post
    These are all very interesting responses, but they make me think that the way (or method or whatever) you go about it depends on the kind of story you're writing. For example, if I'm writing some epic, fantasy/action adventure with all sorts of cool, imaginary characters, I be forced to put a little more thought into than if I were write, say, a young adult fic, where any character of mine could easily be an ordinary human being. In that case, coming up with characters would be an easier, simpler task.

    No, type of story matters not at all to me.

  23. #23
    writer, rider, reader...ex-pat! BethS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ElisaC View Post
    they make me think that the way (or method or whatever) you go about it depends on the kind of story you're writing.
    Not really. It's more a function of how my brain works. I'm a non-planner, when it comes to characters and stories, and I'm writing a big, complex fantasy.

  24. #24
    Super Procrastinator Kallithrix's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chasing the Horizon View Post
    Sometimes I just start with an image of the character and work out everything else from there, often working backwards to how the character got themselves in the situation I've imagined and why they're reacting to it the way they are (not to mention what sort of place this might be happening in). This early image may or may not end up appearing in the final outline.
    Ditto.

    My current WIP developed from a recurring daydream about a master being bathed by a slave, but being really displeased with her and she doesn't know why. All the details about who they were and how they came to be in that situation developed almost as backstory to the scene. The current draft doesn't even contain this scene, but the characters are still pretty much as I envisioned them. Now I just know why

    Sometimes the story dictates the characters, and sometimes characters dictate the story. It depends which is stronger. Sometimes when I'm writing the story as I originally planned, it no longer seems appropriate for the characters to act that way, because they have evolved differently. If the storyline that does fit the characters is better, I go with it. It isn't, I tweak the characters until they are the kind of characters who would act the way I need them to.

    I'd say the ratio is about 50/50 in my current WIP.
    "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."








  25. #25
    Shooting stars. lolchemist's Avatar
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    A lot of times they just flash into my head uninvited. This especially sucks if they come with their very own story that has nothing to do with the project I'm working on right now. I'm hell-bent on finishing this project so no matter how awesome you think you are, dear character, you're going to sit and wait in your word doc in the 'other projects' folder until I'm done!

    The other way my characters come into existence is when I sit down to develop this MC and realize he/she needs friends, relatives and acquaintances. Usually those people end up writing themselves too though and some of them become MCs and some of them just fade into the background.

    Current WIP (YA Contemporary) - Book 1: 32,958 of 90,000 X Book 2: 40,359 of 90,000
    Current WIP (YA Fantasy) - Book 1: 68,055 of 75,000 x Book 2:
    10,512 of 75,000
    x Book 3:
    09,962 of 75,000 x Book 4:
    12,490 of 75,000

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