Characters

Hello there Scribbler friends! Vivienne Ylang here, filling in for J Monkeys. J’s off at the Scottish Festival in Hartford CT today, taking pictures for a future book on multi-culturalism in the United States for preschoolers…nope – that’s not a typo. I’m here filing in and since I’m putting the finishing touches on some characters for my WIP (a time travel romance currently titled Some Time), I thought I’d take a moment to tell you how I develop a character.

For me, a story usually starts with a plot nugget, and this one was no different. Last October, I had an idea for a conflict. From there, I immediately switched gears and thought about who was involved in this conflict. Who were the players. I thought, and thought, and thought. And thought some more. When I had some details worked out, I pulled up my trusty-dusty Character Sketch file and started to fill in the blanks. Yes, yes, I’m a plotter. No pantsing my way around for me.

My character sketch is just a starting point – a place to capture some specific information about each of the main and major supporting characters in the story. I end up knowing much more about my character’s background than just the simple questions on the standard sketch form, but this is where I start.

Now, I know lots of authors who have a hard time casting their roles (come on, we all do it, we’re all ready for that call from Hollywood). Not me. I’m a visual person. I need to be able to see my characters. How did writers live before Google? I’m the queen of Google Images to find pictures of folks to be players in my story. I try to stay away from the Robert Pattinson’s of today’s world of fame and go with more obscure actors or other public figures. And time isn’t an issue for me, so often my characters have the features of long dead folks.

Check out this picture of Olivier – no wonder he won my namesake’s heart, huh? He was dreamy! Do you know the story of Olivier and Vivien Leigh?

So I like to know the basics, names, dates family history, size, likes, dislikes, hobbies, quirks, fears, goals, hopes and dreams of my characters. I like to know what kind of education they have had, what kinds of jobs they have had. I like to know what makes them tick – what do they want out of life? Why do they want that? What do they need to be happy and do they know what they need?

I’ve learned that I really can’t start writing the story until I have completed this step. I’ve got to write these things down ~ I can’t just wing it. When I try, it ALWAYS comes back to bite me in the butt. While I’m noodling my character sketches, I’m also working on a plot outline – but that’s a topic for another post.

Today’s Secret: It’s perfectly okay to borrow ideas for tools like my character sketch from other authors. I developed this one, but I bet lots of you will have seen some of these questions before. They are fairly common.

Today’s Question: How do you develop characters? Do you need to use paper or do you keep it all in your head? Do you like to cast your characters?

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7 thoughts on “Characters”

    1. Hi! Thanks for the comment. I agree the VL died way too young and it’s sad to me that she wasn’t happy more. Scarlet O’Hara is probably my all time favorite character – she’s so wonderfully flawed and so much a product of her environment.

  1. Love your character sketch chart and will totally steal…um…borrow that from you. My characters usually come along with, or shortly after the plot idea, as if they are coming to me with a conflict that I must help them define and resolve. Although I have a vague image of who they are, it’s always difficult to put a face on them. I can sometimes do that after the whole story is told once I know them better, but they kind of come to me fully formed and then I have a couple of hundred pages to really get to know them. To save myself time later–and the bite to the butt, as you put it–I do try to get a good handle on their goal, motivation, and conflict before I start the story and then after a few “pantsy” warm-up chapters to get a feel for where the story and the characters are going to take me, I step back and do a more detailed character grid, asking many of the same questions you do for your characters. So cool how we all process information and storytelling differently. Thanks for sharing Viv!

    1. Thanks! Years ago I was in a book store in London and from across the room I saw a book with this GORGEOUS man on the cover. I drifted over in a daze to see who it was. It was Olivier. I had only seen him as King Lear and in other roles like that – never his stuff as a young man. Dreamy, dreamy, dreamy!

  2. Oh, Olivier. One of the most beautiful men of all time. I fell in love with him when I watched Wuthering Heights for the first time. He will always be Heathcliff to me. Sigh!

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