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Category Archives: What’s in Character

What’s in Character – Now What!

Okay. We have finished your character’s creation. during the preceding What’s in Character blog posts. You’ve been following this blog and building a character along the way. I can here you now. “Great Dennis. I have twenty-two pages of information on each of my characters. My character notebook is a novel unto itself. I know more about them than I do about my own family. What do I do with all of it?” My standard response to all questions is, “That depends.”

1)  If you don’t have a plot in mind for your story, dive into your character’s lives and find something that would come into great conflict with your protagonist. Hopefully, you can also find something about you protagonist that would pose a great conflict for your antagonist. Ta Da, you have an initial plot conflict.

2)  What if you have a plot in mind? Look for new potential character arcs. Ways in which your characters can change based on the plot line. Trust me that the information you have generated during the previous posts is full of potential.

3)  I have a plot. I have character arcs. I have all the conflicts the reader could hope to want in a story. What else can I use this tome for?  COLOR! The whole point of this exercise was to create characters that are real to the reader. Use this material to add realism. Have you character twirl her hair while she talks to the police detective. The officer doesn’t know this is a tell that she is lying bu,t you can let the reader know it is with a few well-chosen words of description embedded in the dialogue. Add bits and sprinkles of your character’s likes and dislikes or tags and traits into dialogue to break it up and make it grab the reader. After a critical scene, your character may need to reflect on the situation. Have them grab their favorite drink, find their favorite comfortable spot and reflect away. The added details can be found in you Tome of Characters. Have fun with it but, don’t over do it. The information about your character that you relate to thee reader should be there for a reason.

It was my intention to give you details as to how my “Yursi” character was created. However, my character file is at 23 pages and growing. that’s too much for this blog. You will just have to read my short story,  Good Night’s Sleep, and the novel to follow to find out more about the raven-haired witch with twin magical daggers that is searching for a lost relative and her own identity while being hunted down by her own family. 🙂 That project is slated for 2014.

Let me know how your characters turn out. 

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Posted by on April 10, 2013 in What's in Character

 

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What’s in Character – Experience

In previous What’s in Character posts, we have been creating a character full of interest and realism. We have discussed core personalities, physical appearances, and external influences. Five more layers to add and our creation will come to life.

The next layer is pretty straight forward but no less important. What age is the character? Sure the story line may dictate certain ages for your main characters. However, you should still consider the ramifications of the character being older or younger. Could the “Mentor” in your story be a sixteen year old computer prodigy instead of a seventy year old. How would that affect the way the character reacts? Try different ages for each of your characters and see how the dynamics of the story changes.

Another internal trait that can completely change a character is self-esteem. Variations in self-esteem can affect different core personalities in a variety of ways. A leader with poor self-esteem may look to his advisers to make critical decisions. A self-absorbed engineer may ignore the advice of the architect and take shortcuts when building a skyscraper, just to come in on time and under budget. He could care less that the building is unsafe. Self-esteem issues are very high on the list of reasons people seek counselling. Why does the character see themselves the way they do?

That brings us to major events that have affected the character. Most of us can look back over our lives and point to few events that changed our lives. Our lives were changed not only by the events themselves, but by the way we reacted to the events. Sometimes these events are global and affect thousands of people. Natural disasters, war, and plague are a few that come to mind. Other times they are personal and may seem insignificant to an outsider. For example, a family member dies or is buried on a holiday or a parent ridicules a child in front of his friends. The event doesn’t have to be negative. Setting a state record in a sporting event, receiving the acceptance letter to a highly respected school, or winning the lottery could all be life altering events. Now take into account that core personality. Each personality type may react differently to the same event.

Closely related to major events are the passions that each person has. it may be writing, or running, or chess, or programming computers, or politics, or working with statistics. What ever it is, a character should have one or more things that they are passionate about. These are the things the character does when they are not working for a living. They may be related to the story line or they may be used as  a divergence to slow down the pace of a story. Either way, they make the character deeper. the reader can relate better to someone if they know what the character loves to do.

Okay. You are almost there. You should have a dozen or so pages, at least, of notes about your character. by now you should know the character well enough that you could sit down and have an interview with a reporter as your character and never miss a question. So…

Time to open an internet browser or your file cabinet and locate a “Character Questionnaire”. There are hundreds of them available. I’m sure you’ve seem them and you may have already used them. That’s fine. However, even if you used one before, you now have a fleshed out character that can actually answer the questions in a meaningful way. You have a background and experiences to relate to that will help you answer the questions. Take your time here. These questionnaires can provide a wealth of detail that you can use to draw the reader into your story and make them love/hate your characters.

There you are. If you have followed along and added all of the layers we have discussed, you have a fully fleshed out character that is ready to be thrown to the wolves of your story conflict. You will know how the character will react, most of the time, to most of the situations where you may place them. Why is he hedging you may ask? That’s because, no matter how well you develop a character outside of the story plot, some characters find a way to do what they want even though the writer doesn’t want them to. If this happens, my advice is to go with it. The character may know better than you.

Those of you who have been creating a character using this technique, I would love to hear from you on how it worked out, or not.

See the previous What’s in Character posts at: Core Personality, Physical, Natural Environment

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2013 in What's in Character

 

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What’s in Character – Natural Environment

We started with the heart of the character, that being their core personality type. Then we added the skin which is made up of physical appearance. Now we need to start adding the bones and muscle that will make our character move and breathe.

Natural environmental factors such as birth order, family issues, education, talents, love language, and self-esteem are critical aspects to consider when you are creating a character with depth. As we look at each of these new layers, remember to go back to the core personality and see how this individual would be affected by the new layer.

Let’s start with birth order. Volumes of books have been written on the subject of family dynamics and the personalities of specific birthing order. Suffice to say that there are well-documented personality characteristics based on when a character joins the family unit. The oldest child tends to mirror the parents. Some call these children the golden children. The middle children tend to be adaptable and are considered the diplomats. I call them spies and instigators. The “babies of the family” tend to be overly indulged but are usually charming and … unusually handsome. 😉 Sorry, couldn’t help myself. These are very broad statements and are not carved in stone. However, they can be used to assist in developing how a character reacts to authority or a subordinate.

What kind of family dynamic the character was brought up in can have a huge impact on their abilities to cope with outside influences. Was the character an only child of a drug addict mother and an abusive father? Or, was it fourth out of ten kids with a family that was close-knit and fully supportive of each other? Remember to consider the character’s core personality. How would each of these family situations affect the personality you chose for your character.

How would the Twilight saga have changed if Bella Swan, the protagonist, had been the youngest of three children in a family that did everything together? Would she still have felt like she was born to be a vampire? Perhaps and perhaps not. However, the story would have been quite different, don’t you think?

How much formal education does the character possess? Did they graduate from the sixth grade or do they have several PhD’s from MIT. Perhaps the character dropped out of eighth grade and has been living on the streets of a major city until the age of twenty. They probably have street smarts galore instead of being book smart. This could have its advantages. Once again, look back to the core personality. What is the effect on the character.

Does your character have any special talents? These can be story related or not. An assassin who is also a cello virtuoso. Or, a coal miner who paints portraits. Or, from real life, a homeless man with the perfect radio personality voice. Talents can be obvious or hidden. They can be a driving force in the story or a side note. However, a special talent can and usually does have some impact on character development. For example, the shy stutterer that becomes the country music superstar when he learns that doesn’t stutter when he sings. You’re a writer, use your imagination. This alone can be the genesis of a story. For our purposes though, a talent adds depth and realism to a character.

A while ago, I was reading “Plot versus Character” by Jeff Gerke. In the section on character building he talked about a layer called Love Language. This one was new to me, but after reading this section a light bulb came on for me. I saw how it would affect my characters, but also how I am affected. Mr. Gerke referenced Dr. Gary Chapman’s theory that there are five love languages. They are: “Words of affirmation”, “Quality time”, “Receiving gifts”, “Acts of service”, and “Physical touch”. Each person has preferences as to how they give love and receive love. A quick definition is in order.

Words of affirmation – These people say the words. the feeling of love is spoken.

Quality time – These people show love by providing complete and undivided attention. They set aside special times to be with those they love.

Receiving gifts – These people show their affection by giving thoughtful gifts.

Acts of service – These people show love by doing things that they feel help their loved ones. Such as, cleaning the dishes, vehicle maintenance, watching the kids.

Physical touch – These are the huggers, the touchy feeley people. You know someone who always touches your arm when they talk to you or hug you hello and good-bye versus and wave or a handshake.

People can use any and all of these to send and receive feelings. However, each of us has a preferred method to send and a preferred method to receive affection. They are not always the same. Mixing and matching these can be fun. I am thinking of the lumberjack who gives everyone he meets a bear hug, being introduced to the British Queen. That would be interesting to watch.

Each of the layers we have discussed can affect and be affected by the core personality. Each of them will have an affect of the character’s self-esteem. How the character sees themselves may be very different from how others see them. Do they like themselves? Do they feel incomplete? Do they loathe who they are but feel unable to change? Very powerful stuff here. Take your time and think this through.

If you’ve been taking notes about your character as we go, you should have a number of pages filled with ideas. Your character is beginning to take shape, move, and breath. Next time we will add layers relating to life experiences and the external environment.

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2013 in What's in Character

 

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What’s in Character – Physical

Last time we gave your new character a core personality. If you have completed your research on your character type, you should have several pages of material that will help you in the days to come. However, there is much more to a character than their core personality. Today, we will give them some physical characteristics. As we work through this topic, remember that physical appearance is only the window dressing for your character.

When the chromosomes came together to create your character, there were two sets. make a decision as to whether your character has an X and a Y or two X’s. Depending upon your story, a different gender for your character can change the whole look and feel of the story. Writing cross-gender can be interesting for the writer. Some writers feel more comfortable using their own gender for the protagonist. It seems natural and can be somewhat easier. However, we’re not talking about you, we are talking about your character here. Other writers feel the gender of a character makes no difference. I agree that actions during the story can be accomplished by either gender. However, we are talking about the effects of gender on character development. Based on the personality type, how would the character be different, other than plumbing, if they were a different gender?

The potential race of your character can play a huge role in the way they see and interact the world. Once again don’t just consider race alone. How would the core personality respond to the effects of being a different race. As with gender, any race can act and interact any way the writer wishes. Stepping outside stereotypes can be very interesting and beneficial to the uniqueness of the story. I know of a particular author that chose to write about a Dark Elf, one of the most despised creatures in all fantasy. That character is now one of the most recognized and popular in the genre. Differences in racial morphology, especially if you are writing fantasy, can give the character a very unique perspective. More of morphology later.

The age of you character comes in two distinct varieties, actual and projected. Both can play differing roles in character building. Actual age should be considered during many character building stages. It is especially important to consider when building the layers which include life experiences and traumatic events. A child experiencing the death of a friend may deal with it differently than an adult. consider the core personality as well and things get twisted even more. For instance, how would a thinking extrovert child react to seeing its best friend killed in a drive-by shooting? Now make you character an adult sensitive introvert. How would they respond?

I will say two things about physical attractiveness. First and most important, attractiveness is in the eye of the beholder. Ever hear that before? Second, and this relates directly to the first one, a vast majority of people are average looking. That’s by definition. So, consider not only how your character looks, but what they find attractive in others. Most of us see our own physical flaws more clearly than anyone else. We also tend to not see or ignore the physical flaws in those we care about. Decide how your character’s personality type will view their own physical appearance. How will they react to those they find unattractive. Will they react with pity, arrogance, compassion, etc.

From the writer’s point of view, the general attractiveness of the character is not as important as the actual physical features. Face shape, body shape, eyes, hair, ears, complexion and any combination thereof can influence the character and the reader. What do you see when I give this description.

The man was a barrel with legs. A large round bald head sat squarely on his shoulders. A roll of fat protruded on top of his collar where his neck should have been. The roll disappeared into four chins in front with a thin black mustache and goatee framing thin lips.

How would you react to this character? How does this character see himself? Now place this physical description on a few different personality types and see what you get.

Now let’s add one more layer. Take this man ad put him in a $1,000 three-piece suit and $500 shoes. Does your view of him change? Now let’s say he is wearing a long purple robe with a jeweled crown on his head. How about a Speedo and a sunburn? Ouch, that even hurt my eyes. Sorry.

How the character dresses and how they groom themselves can also be affected by that pesky personality type. Are they meticulous? Are they flashy? Are they a slob? Why?

Okay, so far we have given the character a base personality. We have determined their gender, race, and age. We have decided on their physical appearance and what physical attributes they find attractive. And, we have dressed them appropriately for their personality. So far, so good. These are some of the tags and traits the writer can use to help the reader see the character.

I caution you. If you stop here, like most writer’s do, you miss the things about a character which are most important to your character and potentially, your story.

In the next post we will add other natural environmental factors such as birth order, family issues, education, talents, love language, and self-esteem.

If you are building a character as we go along, please let me know how it’s going. I would love to know. Also, if you would like me to dive deeper on any portion of this exercise, I would be happy to do so.

 
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Posted by on March 4, 2013 in What's in Character

 

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What’s in Character – Core Personality

This is the first in a series of posts devoted to character creation. I will go deeper than just physical appearance and how a character speaks. During the series, I will tear apart the main character from my short story, “Good Night’s Sleep”.  I will show you how Yursi Sonal was developed.

I do not go through the entire process that follows, for every character in every story. However, all of my major characters are created using this process.

According to modern psychologists, which I am not, each of us has a core personality. It is part of our DNA and is the base line for who we are. Everything that we experience whether it is physical, mental, or emotional is processed by and layered to this core personality.

There are a multitude of tests to determine which core type we fit into. Each will provide slightly differing results. I started using one such famous test in particular, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test. The results of this test indicate four important areas that make up a character’s personality:

Introvert(I) vs. Extrovert(E)

Sensing(S) vs. Intuition(N)

Thinking(T) vs. Feeling(F)

Judgement(J) vs. Perception)P)

This yields sixteen potential combinations of letters. E.g. INTJ, ESFP, or ENTP. Each combination describes a basic temperament for the individual.

As an example, let’s take my character Yursi Sonal. When the chromosomes that created this character came together, the result was a ISTP. That means Introvert, Sensing, Thinking, Perception. The full description would take several pages to list. But, the full description is important to refer back to, so I keep it close to my computer at all times.  For now, we’ll shorten the description to: 

Impulsive and sometimes naive, generous, tactical, ignores rules and can be insubordinate to authority, takes risks and loves to play, subject to boredom outside of the job, requires a long leash.

So, this is the core personality that all of Yursi’s experiences will be processed by and layered onto. The way the character views their gender, birth order, physical appearance, their family status, geographic location, external environment, education, life experiences, employment, financial values, etc. will all be affected by this core set of traits. In upcoming posts, we will begin to add these “layers” to the core. Each layer will add to the character’s personality

If you are creating a main character, I recommend you consider this as your first step. An invaluable reference book for writer’s who want to use this method to create characters is, “Please Understand Me II” by David Keirsey. Even if you don’t go to this much effort to create your characters, it’s a good reference for character behavior.

As a side note, take an established character and ask them the Myers-Briggs questions to see what core type the character is. If they are honest with their answers, you might be very surprised at the results!

There are other, easier ways come up with a character. However, as you will see, when we build a character using this type of baseline and layering life experiences on top, we will end up with a living, breathing character that can and will respond to any challenge that comes their way in a real and believable way. Isn’t that what we want from or characters?

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2013 in What's in Character

 

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What’s In Character?

Every story has at least one character. The character can be almost anything. It could be a person, a spider, a tree, a rock, a dragon, a storm, etc. What ever the character is, it has physical and emotional features. It has a point of view, perhaps a history, some kind of future. Most likely, it has a personality, a temperament  even feelings. A story without a character is not a story.

Characters are depicted in different ways by various writers. Some go into lavish detail about how characters look physically while others use virtually no physical description at all. These latter writers rely on the reader to create a mental image of their own based on the character’s actions and dialogue. Even though the physical description never makes it onto the page, I would bet that the writer knows what the character looks like and how they dress. Interesting characters have detailed backgrounds. It’s the character background that I am interested in exploring.

Most of my stories start with a character. My first writings were, in fact, character sketches for role-playing game participants. I enjoy character creation and have approached it from many different angles. Sometimes I start with a physical description, sometimes a profession, sometimes a core personality profile, and sometimes a history. Each one works and very well-rounded layered characters can be created, regardless of where you start. The key thing is, always build more into the character than you will actually use in the story. Sometimes, your characters will go someplace or have to deal with an issue that you may not have thought about when you started writing. If you have a detailed character background, you can easily determine how your character should respond.

Recently, have I tried to write without having a fully fleshed out character to start with. I am finding myself having to re-read previous sections to remind myself what the character said or did. This is time-consuming, so I have started taking notes as I write. I hope the characters turn out okay. we shall see.

My intention is to offer a series of posts devoted to character creation. During the series, I will tear apart the main character from several flash fiction pieces and my short story, “Good Night’s Sleep”.  I will show you how Yursi was developed. I actually created her twice, using two different methods. Each gave slightly different results, as it should be.

I look at character creation like creating a painting. The artist starts with a blank canvas and begins by drawing a pencil sketch, the a base layer of paint is applied. Then, the picture begins to take shape as the artist adds layer upon layer of paint to the canvas. Each layer uses the layer beneath and adds detail to painting until together, all of the layers make up the final image.

I have seen characterization addressed many times in blog format. Usually, it is a brief discussion talking about character tags and traits we use to describe characters within the story. I have posts covering those areas as well. I hope this series will be a deeper dive into the background material where those tags and traits originate.

If you are in the initial stages of a story or have a story with a character that seems flat, I will give you suggestions that may help you bring your characters to life. Along the way, if your character has a major problem area that you would like to discuss, I would be happy to do so. :-).

 
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Posted by on February 8, 2013 in What's in Character

 

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