HOW TO DEVELOP A CHARACTER WITH THE STORY RATHER THAN BEFORE
I’m straying away from the week’s theme a bit, but who cares? As long as we cover some ground, that’s all that matters. I’ve been reading a lot about character development. How I find time to read anything is beyond me, but it happens. It happens when I’m on the bus or when I’m walking or when I’m on my lunch break. I’m either reading or I’m writing.
Get a life, right?
Anyway, I’ve delved into character creation a bit more, and I read an interesting practice. Many writers suggest that whenever we are creating a character, there are some critical points that we have to make.
Some common suggestions have to do with spending a week and creating a dossier on your character. We are encouraged to write out likes and dislikes, fears and failures, and dreams and ambitions.
This works for some, but it doesn’t work for me. After reading James Scott Bell, he validated a practice that I thought was unique to me. I can certainly say that I’m glad it’s not unique to me because that means that I haven’t lost my mind when it comes to this whole writing thing.
I am in the habit of getting to know my characters as the story unfolds. My characters, who have elaborate backstories, reveal their lives to me and to the other characters as the plot dictates.
It’s been unique to read the history and details of characters whom I have come to admire, whether good or bad. The bad pasts have compelled me to appreciate my characters as much as the good pasts.
This organic character development has its difficulties, as I have had to change a few timelines here and there, but ultimately, the finished story is much more intriguing. There’s one character whom I wanted to dictate her actions as the writer, but I absolutely could not force her to do what I wanted her to do.
What I’ve realized is that this form of organic writing has given the characters more of a voice in determining their own destinies, which has made for more of a character-driven story.
For the record, I’m not degrading the planning method. I’m simply saying what works for me. Give it a try and see if it gives you the same freedom.
I do a combination of both. I planned out my characters personality, likes/dislikes, and her views on the major issues she faces in the story. But, I’ve learned that some of her decisions have to be made organically and in the moment, and some of these decisions will go against what’s planned. Like real people, sometimes it’s better if characters are unpredictable.
Whitney, that’s good advice. I think that planning is essential, and I’m sure you get the best of both worlds because whenever you place a character in a scene, you already have a lot to pull from.
I’ve noticed that my disadvantage is trying to create on-the-spot tension with a character’s backstory because I don’t have anything to pull from except my immediate imagination.
That said, I have trouble defining a character beforehand. I would like to venture more into your organically structure method, because having the ability to toggle between both worlds is certainly advantageous.
Thanks for your input.
Maybe you should try getting into your character’s head for a few days. Before I wrote anything down, I just sat and thought about my character and who she was as a person. Her backstory began to fall together enough that I could write about her without writing every aspect down. Just a thought.
Not a bad idea. It’s always tough for me to hear my character’s voice until the character has experienced something. After that, I’m usually locked in. I’m going to try you method to see if I can get some more pre-story backstory and see if that alters how soon I can get into my character’s thoughts. Thanks, Whitney!
You’re welcome! I hope it works for you!
excellent timing. i’m revising a finished novel that’s been revised once, but i could tell something was missing. i recently read a post – might have been yours – about the two conflicts within main characters, and conflicts that basically conflict against each other. my story was good but not good enough. i’ve been thinking that my characters were having things a little too easy, and they didn’t have enough “trouble” or “pain” to deal with. then i started thinking backwards and looking at where i could create an inner conflict for one of them. that’s when things started to fall into place, and now is when the real work begins. i write a first draft easily – but that doesn’t mean it’s good.
That’s great to hear, Rich. And yeah you’re right, the first draft is a fly through but going back and upping the ante is where it can be tough. That said, you’re right about the inner conflict, also. Just adding that “I do, but I don’t” factor inside of your character’s thinking really adds a lot for the reader.
it came to me while i was on my way to a convenience store for a chicken salad sandwich.
I’m kind of torn on this one 🙂 I do a little bit of planning, right at the beginning, a character sketch, then, like you, as I’m writing, I find I discover more about the characters, so I write things in a little notebook as they come to me 🙂
Sometimes I find I have to let the character go their own way. Too much planning initially makes me feel like I’ve straight jacketed my character lol
Wow! Excellent point: “straight-jacketed”. It’s how I feel. I tend to get the impression that I’m writing a story rather than the story is unfolding. I prefer to have the latter.
We can plan our lives meticulously, but there’s always gunna be that moment, when something comes along and bites you on the proverbial lol….why should it be any different for our characters, that’s what I say 😉
hahah so so true. 🙂