Lesson 2 in my class is about building characters. After reading all my assignments twice, here are are some thoughts for you.
First, which comes first – the characters or the plot? Several readings suggested it’s easier to develop the characters first and let them lead you to the plot rather than trying to fit characters into an already developed plot.
So you start by describing your primary character. You begin with a physical description – height, weight, eye color, hair color, build, health, voice, scars, birthmarks, clothes, shoes, hairstyle, glasses/contact lenses, etc. Write it all out on a piece of paper to keep near you as you write so on page 220 you don’t talk about the scar on the left arm that started out on the right arm on page 60. (Believe it or not, there are geeks like me who will notice.)
Once you have a good physical description of your character it’s time to add another dimension. What do they do for a living? How much money do they make/have? What kind of car do they drive? What is their home like – own, rent, square feet, bedrooms, bathrooms, colors? What pets do they have?
Now you’re starting to make your character multi-dimensional and adding interest. Next you need to provide them with some personal characteristics. What are their goals? What motivates them? What’s their primary attitude and does it vary greatly? Do they have any strange or annoying habits or mannerisms? What irritates them? What sports do they like and hobbies do they have? Are they are reader? If so, what do they read – books, magazines, newspapers? Do they like movies? What kind? How about music? Are they emotional and is this consistent with the portrait you’ve drawn so far? Do they belong to any organizations? What are their political beliefs?
To finish off your description, you need to give them a background. Where were they born? Who were their parents and were they good parents? What was their situation like growing up? Do they have siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, children, spouse/lover, exes? What kind of education do they have and what is their job history?
Is this a lot or maybe even too much? You may not give all this information to your readers or you may offer it to them gradually, but if this is the primary character in your story, it’s important for you as a writer to know and understand them better than anyone. If you’re totally knowledgeable about them, writing their story will be easy for you.
Other things to consider; they should be consistent, strong enough to maintain interest and keep things moving, complex, not stereotypical, and sincere. If you do all these things, the plot will naturally flow from the characters. When you reach a plateau you can ask yourself, what would X do in this situation? What would they say? How would they feel?
Now decide what people surround your main character and develop profiles for them. The level of detail can vary based on their importance to the main character and to the story but again, the more you know about them, the easier they are to write.
If you have a great idea for a setting, you can start to develop your characters by first asking yourself who would live, work or play there and how will the setting affect them. How does the character interact with the setting? Once you determine those things you can begin to develop your profiles.
Our assignment this week was: Write "profiles" of two characters, preferably characters whose traits would provide conflict if they were placed in opposition to each other in a story. Be sure to include internal as well as external markers. (maximum 250 words each)
Armed with all the information gleaned from the reading assignments, I quickly discovered that 250 words are totally inadequate to create a truly complete profile. It took me 471 words above just to describe how to create the profile.
The profiles I created stayed within the limits, but if I use these characters in my book their profiles will be greatly expanded. After all the reading, I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of these two people. I'll post them later and when my instructor comments that will be posted also.
Prior to taking this course and reading all this, I probably wouldn't have taken the time to really flesh out my characters.
A little learning can be a good thing.
What do you think?