Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Character Creation

I've recently been working on about four, or five? different projects. Two of those are newish, pulled from my giant "story starts" file. Yup, I have a file (two now) filled with one liners, names, descriptive paragraphs, outlines, themes, ideas, characters, quotes and a plethora of junk.

Working on the newish stuff led to some character development. So I thought, hey, why don't I talk about how I create a character? Everyone has a different method. Some people use character sheets tabletop RPG style and roll them up (I've even done it a couple times for kicks). There is a certain level of detail and simplicity that system allows.

The one thing I don't like about it is this: It forces you to concentrate on the physical traits of the character before you ever decide on what I find to be the most important part : Character! That's right. Personality, thought patterns, speech patterns, word use. These are the things that inform me most about a character, not whether or not his hair is precisely the shade of apricots in June.

I start my process by simple writing. I usually write several paragraphs before I even name a character. That name can happen a couple of ways.
* Organically - the name just comes to me. Clicks, fits. This phenomenon is occasionally referred to as "self-naming".
*Strenuously - I have stop writing, pull up Behind the Name and start looking to narrow down my options. Usually I start with a letter of the alphabet and move from there.

For instances:

Sebastien Crowle was named for me. I loved the name the moment I heard it and built the entire book around the character. Plot came secondarily to the character.

Fynn Adder was named organically as well. He pretty much named himself. There was no fuss at all.

Simon Murphy - was originally Murphy Simon. Yup, I swapped em. It was meant to be a running joke that he would switch them up whenever he needed an alias, but that never jived. So Simon he became.

Germaine (the King's Dog) - was a seek and ye shall find sort of name. Morraine name himself, but Germaine was not as helpful. I combed through meanings, alphabets, regions and finally picked Germaine because I liked the way it sounded.

The Sound of a Name
I always say a characters name out loud several times. I introduce myself ( I tend to act things out) walk around try to fit myself into the head space. If a character's name doesn't sound right to me, I go back to the drawing board. I have been known to change character names during second and third drafts. One character is on her third name change.

After the Name

So my new baby has a name, I've settled into headspace and there is still no physical description to be had. My next step is still not deciding what he looks like. Though some characters are different. I knew what Sebastien looked like before I wrote word one, but Fynn was different. Every character is different in the way that they grow on the page. You have to be willing to roll with the punches.

Anyway, after I name him I get straight back to writing. My next step is to add the layers of personality. The weird quirks, obsessions, likes/dislikes, color preferences, meal choices, etc that make the character human.

Physical Traits
   Are last. Almost always. Usually it boils down to: Hair/Eyes, build, skin tone, facial structure.
I tend to generalize my facial descriptions because everyone has their own ideal beauty, and everyone will imagine a character slightly differently from the person next to them. To that end I sometimes use "types". I describe Simon consistently as "Wholesomely handsome" and "Clark Kent-like" This establishes his looks very firmly without my having to use explicit terms.

Not every character will allow you such type casting, however, so there are the occasions when I have to talk about a long jaw and that broken nose.

That said, one thing I try to ensure is that none of my characters are flawless. Every single one has scars, burns, bruises, tattoos, birthmarks, etc. Fynn is a prime example of scarred and tattooed. Sometimes the tattoos have meanings beyond what they mean to the character, sometimes they don't. But that is a discussion for another post.

Next time: Birthmarks, tattoos and cliches

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