On August 13, 2022, Kasie and Rex took on the basics of characters and how those voices inside your head don’t make you crazy, they make you a writer. Here are the show notes:
Theme for the day
All About Characters
- Character origins, attitudes, and quirks
- SCWA’s Annual Conference and Virtual Conference are open for registration
- SCWA’s Short Fiction workshop starts Tuesday
- How to write (compelling) characters
We have done character episodes before. Early on, we did Despicable Characters, Archetypes, Names, and how to Be Mean to Your Characters. Then, more recently, Do you Have to Like the Main Character? and giving them agency, diversity, patriarchy, and arcs.
So we might have done it all. Except we haven’t. We haven’t done origins – where do characters come from? And we haven’t done values – what do your characters believe in? And we haven’t done sketches – how do you get to know these characters before you write them?
As an admitted pantser (Kasie) and an evolving planner (Rex), we will today talk about those Voices in Your Head – the ones you hear and cannot ignore and the ones you’ve heard for so long they’re more like friends.
All those weirdo writer things – the things we blame on characters – are up for discussion today.
What is character development and why is it important? (masterclass link) Do characters simply spring from your head unbidden? Are they living in there, lurking in there, like parts of yourself you won’t let out?
- Establish the character’s motivations and goals.
- Choice a POV
- Create conflict
- Describe their personality in familiar terms
- Paint a physical picture of the character
- Develop the secondary characters
If characters do not simply spring into your mind, where do they come from?
– pro: you know this character
– con: you don’t want to writer the character’s flaws, cuz duh.
The people you know
– pro: you know these people, their flaws and strengths and quirks
– con: lawsuits. recognition.
People you don’t know
– pro: distance can be creative, your imagination is the limit
– con: it’s harder to be genuine when you’re making it all up. Avoid cliches – for the worst advice ever.
Six tips for writing great characters (link) here’s a few, not all six:
- Develop characters who reflect your interests – you’ll be with them for a while
- Reveal their world through details – the small examples of bigger issues
- Give them the right skills – to function in the story. They have a purpose, let them fulfill it.
- Make them memorable – unique characteristics, quirks, ticks, twitches will help the characters stand apart from one another
- Access their inner conflict – let the reader see the differences between internal and external
Tools for creating characters include questionnaires, models, and human resources indices.
Let’s start with the questionnaire:
- What is your character’s name?
- What is their gender (at the moment)?
- When is their birthday? What is their age at the beginning of the novel?
- What do they look like?
- What is their general disposition? Are they frowny? Or are they smiley?
- Where do they live?
- What do they eat?
- How do they dress?
- Do they dress to impress?
- Do they dress in a way that is appropriate for their age, or do they dress to look younger or older than they are?
- What major experiences have they had in their lives?
- Have they had any traumatic experiences?
- Did they have a bad childhood?
- Or did they have a good childhood suddenly destroyed by a traumatic event?
- What are their ruminations?
- Do they have any obsessions?
- Are they in love?
- Do they have any pets?
- Do they have any medical conditions?
- What do they like to do in their spare time? (Do they have any spare time?)
- What are their friends like?
- What are their hobbies?
- What are they most embarrassed by?
- Where did they go on their first date? (And with whom?)
Other exercises: from this link
One page character description – what are the benefits and risks?
- Instead of writing a plain, physical description, try viewing the character through a creative lens. For example, does she have a nickname? What did she do to earn it? Does it refer to her appearance? Her attitude? How does she feel about it?
- Choose one event from your character’s past and elaborate on that. For example, your hero has a back injury from an accident while he was in the navy. Does he move differently now? Do people treat him differently? What are the psychological repercussions of the accident?
- Choose one of your main character’s personality traits and list the ways that it’s expressed. If your sidekick is nervous, he might bounce his knee when he’s sitting, pluck at his sleeves, or startle easily.
- What space has your character created for themselves? This can be offstage: a bedroom, an expensive car with all the right gadgets, the perfectly-stocked kitchen, a private office. Describe your character in that space.
The interior (or exterior) monologue exercise – put yourself in the mind of your character and write from their POV.