Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Creating Characters

I used to do my character sketches this way: I'd jot out a character's likes and dislikes. Then I'd reflect on some personality traits they should have at the beginning of the story, and decide how the challenges they encounter will help elicit a new set of personality traits by the end of the story.

For some reason, my characters still lacked oomph.

Last summer, I attended a well-taught workshop on defining character in Berkeley hosted by WRITEteen and facilitated by YA authors Kristen Tracy and Nina LaCour. The teachers used excerpts from books to show examples of how authors release hints about character.

The four things I learned to look for in my reading were:
1. A character's thought process- Consider if a character's thoughts are aligned with what they say or present to others.
2. A character's manner of speech- Consider if the speaker is emotionally present or emotionally removed from a situation.
3. A character's behavior- Consider what a character's actions tell you about them.
4. A character's description of the people and things around them- When someone's describing a person or an object, you should learn as much about the person  doing the describing as you are about the item being described.

At the workshop, I worked on exercises as I reflected on my story's characters. I also learned about character arcs, journeys, and archetypes. After the workshop, I felt more confident about revising my characters. 

Creating strong and believable characters is something I would like to spend more time working on. So I'd like to hear about how other writers develop their characters.


Anonymous said...

Writing characters is probably my favorite aspect of writing at all. These are good tips you have shared. thanks!

Heather M. Gardner said...

I never wrote a character sketch. It would probably be the smart thing to do. I usually just let them talk to me in my head. But, that doesn't always get them fully on the paper.
Great post.

Anonymous said...

great resource! dialogue and manner of speech is such a hit or miss for me. sometimes i just know it off the bat, and other times i struggle.

Kathleen Valentine said...

I think developing characters that breathe on their own is the heart of good writing. If I don't care about a character i certainly won't care about what s/he is going through!

Jennifer Fischetto said...

This is great information. Thanks! :)

Tamara Narayan said...

This is very useful. As for me, I let myself write off the top of my head and then see how my critique group responds to certain characters. They notice things or like things that I didn't even realize while I was writing. Once the whole first draft is down, then I can figure out what a character wants/is afraid of/is thinking of in each scene and draw out their personality accordingly. The most unexpected part of writing is all the time spent thinking about characters and their motivations in the abstract.

Theresa Milstein said...

Sounds like a helpful workshop. Our characters need much dimension to be believable, don't they?

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

I just start writing from the character's POV, and I have that character write about what matters most to him or her. What s/he wants or fears, what is on his/her mind, what is the biggest event or obstacle in this character's life.

Nikki said...

This is a helpful post :) I've learnt so much since the challenge started! I like your blog and the title ''read is the new black'' made me smile :)

Have a great day!

Nikki – inspire nordic

Cynthia said...

Thanks, everyone, for sharing your insights about character development!

Damyanti said...

That sounds like a great workshop!

I start writing in a character's voice, or interview him/her to gain insights.

--Damyanti, Co-host A to Z Challenge April 2012

Twitter: @AprilA2Z

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