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07-08-2009, 10:41 PM
Ah, dolce far niente!
Join Date: Jan 2007
Location: My own little world
Re: Character Development
Ultimately, you're the one who decides what goes down on the paper, but if you're constantly mapping everything out according to "the way you feel the scene should go" as opposed to the way the characters are taking it naturally, your dialogue will show that your plot is more important; that's not how it should be, however, as plot, characters, and setting must blend seamlessly.
If a writer is worried about how their character should be acting, the problem isn’t that they’re thinking too much about it, the problem is that they don’t know their character enough. If a writer can’t take a character out of context and write some kind of conversation or reaction, that character needs to be better known.
I had such a problem before. I knew my character’s personality, I knew what her goals and desires were, but I didn’t know why she had them. It wasn’t until I went back and gave her a past and friends and such things that weren’t even added to the story that I finally could write a character that made their own decisions.
I’m all for changing a plot in favor of a character’s natural actions, I’m just saying that they won’t have natural actions if the writer doesn’t understand why they make them.
Yes, this is true, however, many writers like to get to know their characters without the entire profile process of "Hmm, I think this would be a cool flaw. Ooh, she needs to have this and this and this! And then this. And she can be good at... that! And then she'll be extra bad at... that thing. Yeah, definitely that thing..." Instead, we like to write with the character naturally, even if we don't know all there is to know about the character--if we're letting the character breathe and make his own decisions, we as authors and creators will learn about him as time progresses. That's why most writers tend to not write full length novels with brand-new characters, instead choosing to do some free writes and smaller projects with those characters to really understand them. Once that level is achieved, writing with the character naturally is even easier.
I didn’t say one should sit and ponder all the flaws and such a character has. These come naturally from the kind of person they were long before the story started. And of course your characters expand when you write with them. I’m just saying this expansion happens easier and more deeply when you’ve already got a character with some kind of depth.
Of course, the ability to write fluidly with your character and allow it to make its own decisions comes with a great deal of practice. Yet, still, it is far better to take a little bit more time to practice writing with your character for the sake of learning his depth than to simply make his depth around the concept of "he's a bold character," or "he's a shy character," or "she's hot-headed," and so on. Even when you feel comfortable enough to begin writing a large project with that character, you will continue to learn more about the way it thinks and breathes and lives as you write, and you always will--until the day you stop writing with that character. And if you pick it up again years down the road, you'll find yourself surprised again. Such is the nature of living, breathing characters.
I completely agree. I’m just saying that it helps to move the writing process of getting to know a character backwards rather than forwards. If you start with their past, their present has a cause and their future naturally goes in the direction the character chooses to take.
I think, though, that although a physically written character profile is important for beginning writers or those among us who are especially organized, sometimes mental mapping is just as effective. Characters, like people, make unprecedented decisions, do unpredictable things outside the parameters of their usual range of action. Characters are also constantly changing, both throughout the story and throughout the process of editing.
Too true. I still, however, think it’s a good idea to keep track of the little details that so easily escape us. Names, dates, and places can have great significance, and they can be used well should one remember them.
I find it easy to take the following approach if I want to write by using just a few qualities I have in mind: write the character into a couple of situations. Reread them, and consider what kind of childhood and history would create this kind of character. Then consider what kind of interests and other traits this kind of character would have based on this past. Then write some more scenes in some more situations using these qualities. Then think about what other sort of past experiences and situations would be the cause of or caused by these qualities. Consider these situations and what would come of them, how they would affect the personality traits of this person. Use these newly considered personality traits to write more. Repeat. Etc. It's gradual, but it's an attempt at layering and realism and consistency.
I agree ^^ Building a character’s past at the same time one moves them forward brings a great deal of complexity into a story.
I'm going to have to disagree with this. Navi. The thing is, a character's personality and psychological profile should be created and expanded over time. By just creating one right from the start, you're not giving your character any time to grow or develop on their own. It means you've pretty much planned out their whole life. Characters need to guide themselves by reacting in ways that are truly human (or whatever sentient creature you happen to be using) and not just some way that you've decided it best for them because of some form you filled out earlier.
Is it really possible to map out a character’s entire previous life? No matter how deeply I delve into a character’s past, there’s always more I wonder about, more to add, and you’re right, it’s not a good idea to get carried away in it. I’m just saying that with some sort of past, you actually give your character more room to grow. By giving them things they already know, you also give them the ability to change this knowledge and grow themselves.
It's probably important to mention that everyone has their own way of developing characters. Sometimes it's a mix of both things. Carefully thought out and planned one moment and then spontaneous the next. I have to say that characters often can make themselves, though not all the time. In a moment of writing, at times you just find a new aspect of that character you hadn't considered before. It's almost as if it wrote itself. I think everyone has their own balance of the planned and unplanned. It's also a matter of testing things out and finding what works best for you. What works for one person may not for another.
Too true…but I stay with the phrase, “Good things take a long time, great things happen quite suddenly.” If a person puts a lot of work into developing a character, over time, those wonderful spontaneous epiphanies happen more frequently than one would expect.
I'm not fond of character profiles, myself - apart from keeping track of ages, where they're from, and their main occupation. Reading a psychoanalysis of a real person and getting to know them personally are rather different, aren't they? My other problem is that, whenever I use personality profiles, they don't tend to be much help (to the plot): Oh, he has that flaw; how do I show the reader that he has that flaw? Do I need to show his history; would it matter to this story?
Everyone works differently, no doubt. I don't like planning out a character beforehand because, this way, the character begins his or her existence outside the story. Then I drop this character created from blank space into the story, and it doesn't fit. I usually start with a few core traits and let things go from there.
I also develop a character based on interaction with other characters. What traits can I give these two characters so they annoy each other? I want this character to get along well with another character, what should this new character be like? How do I want this character to react to that character?
Then there's the plot, and the accompanying drama. He comes to this place. What's interesting about this place? Ah, it used to be his home. Why did he leave? What did he leave behind? Look, he's sad. Why is he sad now? Now, within confines of the story, I feel comfortable diving into a character's history.
That’s just it…a character doesn’t belong in the confines of one story. Their story existed long before the current one did, and it will go on long after it ends. That’s the richness of life, people coming from different backgrounds and coming into new ones and becoming different people because of it. A character shouldn’t fit into a story. If they did, there’d be no conflict to write a story about. If people don't have a reason to change the world around them, or get away from it, or something, then how can there be any strugle?
But I agree with character interaction. People are always changing as a result of getting to know other people. This just can get even deeper if both characters are already defined to some extent because then you can watch them change and grow because of this interaction.
Never ever go in a different direction than the one your character pulls you towards…
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