Thursday, December 17, 2009

character invention

I’m not someone who builds a character by listing his or her favorite colors, where he or she went to school, what his or her favorite books, food, movies, kind of jeans and tennis-shoes are. Some authors do this and they have a lot of success building a character in this way. A lot of writing books promote it. A lot of teachers promote it.

I’m not arguing against it. It works for some people. If it works for you, great. It doesn’t help me though. It doesn’t make my characters richer. It makes me self-conscious and it tends to make me force things.

I believe in creating a character in an organic way without any preconceived notions about what he/she might become as he/she evolves in a manuscript. I don’t want to know or think about his or her favorite color or ice cream. I want to be fluid and unencumbered by facts, trivial or otherwise, until they arrive in the natural order of invention. That is as the story evolves, the characters evolve. Another explanation might just be that I’m lazy, but while this is no doubt true, you have to find what works for you and go with that. I do, as I’m working on the manuscript, write little notes about characters. That is, I test out things I learn about characters. Is J. really against potbelly pigs in the house? Why? But something about filling out forms on characters before I write or in the very early stages has a bureaucratic feel. When I’m revising in later stages I might do a character analysis or listing, but not early on.

Probably it just goes back to my notion that writing a novel starts with getting into a place that allows you to live in the work and make the right choices about your story. Within this context you will discover all kinds of things about your characters and what they want and what they fear and maybe, even, what their favorite color is.


Annette Thomson said...

It's interesting to hear how others develop character. I don't do the character sheet myself, but I do 'interview' my main characters and have them answer my questions in their own voices. It helps me to 'hear' how my chactyers behave and think. Thanks for sharing your method.

Sage Ravenwood said...

I did some research on story builders when I first started writing. In the end I felt they complicated or distracted from the natural flow of letting a story tell itself.

Maybe I'm just old school.

In any event I prefer to let the story unfold. A character for me is developed by their personality. Later down the road said character, will get a little more complex with background and history.

For me creating the character first then the storyline seems a bit backward. Thats just my humble opinion. (Hugs)Indigo

Brian Yansky said...

Thanks for sharing, Nettie. Interesting idea. One author told me she has characters write letters back and forth to each other. I did do that once, when I was several drafts in, just to try to get the relationship between two characters clearer in my mind.

Thanks, Indigo--yeah, I feel that way. Writing is such an idiosyncratic act. I can you can use some character building techniques in revision sometimes but not early on.