Monday, December 13, 2010

Finding Characters' Personalities

My favorite part of writing is developing my characters. Who are they? What do they want? Why do they do the things they do? And where the heck do they come from?

A lot of times, I've been told people see me in the books or stories I write. I find that surprising. The more I've thought about it, I think it's a matter of characters. I can only write them based on what I think makes people, real or fake, tick. That would be the ever-elusive to understand personal perception.

Usually, I get a feel for characters I write like I get a feel for people in line at the store who I might strike up a conversation with. My characters surprise me with a physical characteristic. I wonder how they feel about it. They tell me what they want more than anything - it's usually, in fiction, pretty extreme. They make rules for themselves in my head that cannot be broken, but most certainly should be bent. Somehow, I get to know them and they get more complicated, like how I see real people.

Sometimes I hate my characters. Their weaknesses certainly can't be overcome. But then, the characters' strengths take over mid-plot, and I'm surprised. They write the story by interacting and challenging each other. I base all this on what I perceive as happening with people for real. Not that I base my characters on people I know, not that, it's more like dynamics that occur in social situations.

There are lots of ways to get to know the characters. Some writers make character sheets where they list the characters' likes and dislikes, stories from their pasts, that sort of thing. Some writers let the characters bloom right on the page, making their own way. I think at the heart of every story is a character or two who shine above the rest. As a writer, getting to know those characters can be the hardest and most thrilling part of the process.


Hannah Kincade said...

I like to let my characters blossom as I write. It's fun to have them surprise me. I've tried doing character sheets but I never get very far and I find them utterly tedious. But that's just me. I know it works for a great many people. If I need to delve into the depths of my character, I like to use writing exercises featuring my character. It will never end up in the actual novel but it definitely helps. That's rarely needed though.

Great post!

Cherie Reich said...

Great post, Lisa!

For MISSING, I wrote out character profiles for the characters, and it did help when it came to important events in their life and family members that were sprinkled throughout the plot. I didn't pay much attention to what I wrote about what the characters were like, though. I tried to let them tell the story I had plotted out, and sometimes they surprised me by revealing a bigger part of who they were. Some scenes I had planned in my head didn't go as planned because the characters changed how the scene was written. If that makes any sense. *laughs* It is fun to learn about the characters and be willing to let them take control.

Also, sometimes when I write characters, I try to think of myself as that character (goes back to my acting days). It's a good exercise to do. I did that a lot when I wrote my first novel.

Aubrie said...

A lot of me is in my characters as well, whether I like it or not!

It is fun to watch the characters develop over the course of the novel!