After my blog on "Following the Story" and my lack of ability to follow a plan for more than a minute, I have been thinking a lot about the planning processes I undertake. When starting a project, I always begin with the characters, because for me they are the point of the story. The events just kind of let the reader see the characters in action in order to learn more about them, or the events force the characters to evolve. Either way, the characters are the beginning and end of everything I write.
1. Character Webs
To illustrate this I am going to use an example from "Lost in Ladulce: The Lady", the second of my unpublished manuscripts. I was struck by sudden and random character inspiration (SARCI - to those who really love, or hate, acronyms) while at work. I couldn't write out a profile or begin a new file or any of the usual things I would do to capture the essence of the character. Instead, I had two minutes to scribble something down in a torn notebook that just happened to be shoved in a drawer.
The character I had been inspired with was Lucinda, who has gone on to become one of the most problematic characters I've ever created but that does not invalidate the planning process. Lucinda, who at the time remained unnamed. I just knew she was going to be called The Lady, both capitalised. She was going to have a sister, who kind of despised her. She was married, but her husband was more interested in her sister. She would have a son, but she didn't acknowledge him as her child. Lucinda was a character surrounded by and connected to people and yet every relationship was flawed and filled with secrets and lies.
All of this information hit me in one blinding moment. I knew who Lucinda was and what I wanted from her. So I scribbled. Lucinda's name ended up nearly at the top of a page with an arrow pointing across to Danielle (which was the name I hastily pulled out of nowhere for her sister, but the name stuck). I then drew an arrow to her husband, who at the time was simply called The Lord, and between them wrote the name Elsen, which was the name designated for their child.
By the time I got home I had added in surnames and about four other characters with arrows and swirls and dotted lines showing relationship after relationship. During the writing process that followed, many things changed about the characters, but the initial relationship web has remained solid through every rewrite. Admittedly, some of the characters that were added, slowly sank out of importance, to the point where they no longer even appear in the story, but should they crop up, I know exactly how they should interact with the other characters.
Lucinda Bellerose has become a pain in the neck, as far as getting her character just right in the manuscript. She is meant to be slightly disturbed, but she usually comes off as psychotic. I know what she should read like, it is just a matter of translating that into a workable story for the reader. Still, this method of planning not only gave me the basis for the characters of this story, but it also began to establish the plot and plot developments as the relationships between the characters were established.
2. What would they do if...?
This is a method more for people who have a character, but they aren't sure if they know them well enough, or if they have created someone realistic. You take your character and you put them through their paces by asking a very simple question.
What would this character do if...
You can finish this sentence anyway you like. What would they do if I suddenly put them in a parallel world where technology would not function? What would they do if their best friend died? What would they do if they won a lot of money?
If you can't answer the question, and know with a hundred percent certainty that your character would act exactly that way, they you probably need to spend a bit more time getting to know your character. One thing that really bothers me as a reader is when a character suddenly does something that is completely out of character. It makes sense to move the plot forward, but it makes no sense for that individual to act that way. Very annoying.
3. Talking Round in Circles
This one is for the writers who truly like to live their books. When I'm working really closely with a character, I tend to start visualising myself having conversations with them. I do this while washing dishes or doing something else that requires absolutely no thought power. I chat with them. I ask them about their life and what they are doing. We get along like good old friends.
The process is actually fairly important. What I am doing is testing the reality of the character I have created. When they answer me, are they consistent in their language? If I've given them an accent, or a lisp or if they speak in certain forms, have I established that and is it believable? Do I know enough about this character for them to answer the seemingly random questions I throw at them?
All of three of these methods are built around creating a character so realistic they really could come off the pages and walk about and they would be a three dimensional being. Nearly 80% of the information these methods create will never end up in the manuscript, but I feel it is important to really understand your character. If you don't, you can't expect your reader to.
Share your top character planning and creation tips. Comment here or email me to let me know your methods (or madness).