Ever get one of those injuries where you wish you had a better story to go with it? *sigh*
When a bundle of bamboo sticks I was trying to separate slipped, one punctured the tip of my index finger, right by the curve of my nail. Three hours of pressure and paper-towel-wrapped ice cubes later, the bleeding stopped so I could apply a bandage, but typing is…not fun.
So let’s do a shorter, fun post today. *grin*
There’s no end to the variety of ways we can get to know our characters. That goes double when it comes to getting to know our characters well enough that they become three-dimensional and take on a life of their own. Let’s explore…
How Much Do We Plan?
With story plot points, we talk about plotters (those who plot their stories in advance) and pantsers (those who write by the seat of their pants). As we’ve mentioned before, those are two extremes of a spectrum, and many writers fall somewhere in between.
The same goes for character development. Some writers might be great at making up plot points and scenes as they go but still need to plan out character arcs. Others are able to pants their way through the character development or let their characters lead the way.
Just like with plots, there’s no “one right way” to create a character. And just like with plots, even though we might plan the character arc in advance, our story or characters might take over and toss out many of those plans. *smile*
When Characters Lead the Way
Believe it or not, that wrench in the plans might be a good thing when it comes to characters—especially if we haven’t let characters and who they are lead the way through our planning process.
There's no right or wrong way to develop our characters, but we might want to follow their lead Click To TweetMost of us don’t intend to write a story where the characters are shallow and one-dimensional. But if we don’t listen to our characters and tweak the story as we learn who they are, we might end up with characters who are puppets to the plot. If their actions and reactions are driven solely by what the plot needs them to do, that’s usually not a good sign for them seeming real, organically developed, or three dimensional.
In other words, even if we plot our story in advance (both the story plot points and the character arc), there’s a good chance we’ll discover a better idea or something new about them as we draft. At the same time, we have to find a balance so our characters don’t mislead us through the draft, going off on tangents, being too chatty about things that don’t matter, etc.
From One Extreme to the Other
On some level, the difference between plotting and pantsing is whether we try to discover our characters mostly with conscious questions and development in advance or mostly with our subconscious feeding us those answers as we need them.
At one extreme, if we want to be conscious with our development, we might:
- fill out character sheets to determine everything from their favorite color to how they relate to their parents
- complete notecards with their goals and motivations for every scene
- figure out what character traits would create the most tension for our story and build around those details
- fill out a character arc worksheet to determine their arc, such as this one based on Michael Hauge’s Identity and Essence teachings or an even more detailed one based on a worksheet by Autumn MacArthur
At the other extreme, we might just try to listen to their voice in our head. We assume we’ll learn about them and their arc as we draft.
Or for something in the middle, we might figure out their beginning (Point A: what’s holding them back) and their destination (Point B: what they want):
- What does the character long for and desire? (story ending)
- What choices are they making that keep them from their dream? (story beginning)
- What do they learn? (how they change themselves or the world)
- What are they willing to do at the end that they weren’t willing to do before? (story climax)
When Characters Become “Real”
Either way, at some point for many writers, our characters often become real enough to take the lead. My characters have been known to argue with me or stage a protest when they don’t like how I’m portraying them.
I’ve sometimes used that process to help me draft:
- I’ve ensured more diversity among my characters by rejecting “default” characters.
- When I can’t get into a writing groove, I’ll just start writing and wait for my character to tell me I’m doing it all wrong—and proceed to tell me how it really should be.
- With one character, she refused to let me know what happened in a scene, so I asked another character who witnessed it to give me the gist—until she relented and let me into her experience so I wouldn’t get any wrong ideas.
To non-writers, things like that can sound a little insane. *grin* But if you can relate, know that we’re not alone.
Is hearing our character's voice a good sign for our story? Click To TweetA study by researchers from Durham University found that 63 percent of authors can “hear” their characters’ voices in their head while drafting. In fact, I use this technique to get their speaking patterns and even accents and dialects correct.
But even if we never hear their voices, we often get the sense that our characters have a life of their own. And that’s a good sign that we’ve created three-dimensional characters who will seem real to readers too. *smile*
Do you hear your characters’ voices? If you ever don’t, is that a symptom of trouble with the story or character? Do your characters argue with you, or can you interact with them? Do your characters take on a life of their own, and if so, in what way? (And can you relate to my stupid injury? 😉 )Pin It