Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Initial Construction of Characters

Today I want to discuss how I create my characters for my novels. As silly as it seems, I don't spend a huge amount of pre-writing time getting to know my characters. Believable characters are a huge part of what makes a story successful, so it would stand to reason that I should, but I don't. Here's why and what I do at this stage.

I find my characters come to life while I write, which is the opposite of my plot, which is lifeless if I don't map it out. For the most part, I flesh out their characteristics and personalities on the fly. That's not to say I ignore them before I actually start writing, however.

I need a name for a character before I start. I can't begin giving them life before a name is attached. Usually for an important character, if a name doesn't jump out at me, I'll brainstorm a bunch of different names and look them over. I gather these names from baby name books, character naming books, and my own imagination. It's not an exact science, but almost always two or three will jump out at me. Of these few remaining names, one will sound best for the story and situation of the character. (I go through the same process when picking names for places and anything else that needs a name.)

Once named, based on what the story is about and the character's place in said story, I'll give a couple of key characteristics, be it physical, psychological, or whatever. I do this for all the important characters. The reason I tailor the characters to the story is because the characters are tools to make the plot work (and be entertaining). My job as an author during the first draft and subsequent revisions is to make it seem like the story is a character-driven one instead of how I constructed it. The readers can't see the characters as mere tools that move the plot along, so I need to be wary of that as I write since that's exactly how I created them!

At this point in constructing the novel, that's all I do with characters. I simply decide how many are considered main characters, name them, and give them a couple of key traits. As I continue plotting, I'll write down ideas to flesh them out, but the bulk of it happens during the first draft. When I revise, the first few chapters are usually heaviest with changes and tweaks because I need to fix up where I didn't yet have a handle on the characters. I need them to match up with how they act later in the book.

Next week I'll get into more of the heart of how I plot. I'll show how I organize my outline (and what I mean by outline). Until next time, keep writing and/or reading.