Saturday, April 16, 2011

"Who Are You Again?"

Or: Saturday couldn't think up a funny title for this post.

So, last week, Lauren took up my desperate plea for ideas and asked:
Do you have any ideas on developing characters? There are character bios online that you can fill out, obviously, but I haven't found any that inspire me. And I've been told my MC needs more personality. So... possible post idea? 
There was actually a questionnaire I used when I was rewriting Berserk that I liked. Let me find it... holy cow, my bookmarks are a mess again... and man, I bookmark weird things...

I just found this one from Go Teen Writers a few days ago and it looks pretty good. I like that she has one filled out that shows how she uses it.

Haha, here's the one I used when I was rewriting Berserk. Now here's my tip for those: Answer them in your character's voice. Get into their head and ask them how they'd answer the question. First person narration is really helpful for that, I find. I did this with both my MC and another main character in Berserk. (I had trouble with a certain character not opening up to me enough in the first draft. I also wrote some short scenes from his POV.) (No, Kaitlin, you're not getting them. I love ya, but those scenes suck.) (Also, it's okay for them to suck, if you try it.)

Here's a couple other things I think about as I write if questionnaires aren't your thing.

What do they look like? How do they feel about it? Like, I'm short. It annoys me sometimes. Sometimes I don't mind. I think my eyes are kind of cool and I pretty much have no idea what colour my hair is.

Relationship with their parents. This is a pretty big one in YA, I think. At least in my books, family is always a big part of what shapes the character. Are they adopted, raised by a single parents, divorced parents, still married parents, never married parents, no parents? How do they feel about it? Do they want something different? Their relationships with siblings, aunts, uncles, family in general can tell you a lot about a character.

Same with friends. Who do they hang out with? Who do they spend their time with? Also, what do they do in their spare time? I have a character who, believe it or not, finds college level math excercise sheets online and does them in her spare time. (Weirdo.)

How do they move? Most of my characters have one physical habit that I associate with them. Obviously they do more things, but that's the one that when I see a character do it, I think, "Oh, that's..." One of my MCs rubs her cheek, one plays with her hair, one of my boy characters rubs the back of his neck. Knowing what a character does when they're nervous or stressed can really help flesh them out.

Um, what else... Well, there's that. Think about how they talk. I have one character who curses like a truck driver, sailor, and my mother, combined. I have another who mostly swears only at a certain other character, and she has a favourite curse she uses most of the time. No two people talk exactly the same, so, really, neither should any two characters, you know?

To be honest, I learn a lot about my characters as I'm writing them. I write a lot of longhand scenes for that reason. If something doesn't fit with the character, I can scrap it and it's not a big deal.

Sometimes, though, what I end up is just a skeleton of the scene. I write down the basics longhand and then when it goes onto the computer, that's what I devote more thought to what the characters are feeling, how they move, the blocking of the scene, that kind of thing.

So! I guess these are my ideas: If you do character questionaires, fill them out from the character's POV. Think about the things above I mentioned as you write. And try writing some scenes longhand. It might help to have a basic outline of the scene down so you can focus a bit more on the character development than on just getting the scene written, you know?

(Also. I've been editing too long. You have no idea how much I want to delete that just.)

Any more requests? That was fun!

Peace and cookies,