Monday, March 26, 2012

How Well Do You Know Your Characters?

Last week I had offered my character worksheet to anyone who wants one. But I have to say that the character worksheet is the first step of how I get to know my character.

My characters begin to talk to me way before I even type chapter one or the first word.
The more you know your characters, the more your story will flow. I finished three complete novels before I figured this out.

1) I fill out the character worksheet to be able to get eye color, height, more of the features. Every single person in the book, no matter if they are secondary or driving by, they get a character worksheet.

2)As I'm creating these worksheets, I use an address book (that I learned from Heather Webber) and list them by their name and print out a picture I find on google that resembles the character. By this time they have become pretty concrete in my head. Then I take it a step further. I keep that address book with me at all times in case the character tells me something or I think of something new. It fits nicely in my purse or car or bag.


3) The last step is a more detailed bullet point fact sheet. I actually get out my colored pencils and draw an outline of a person. I make it pretty big and hang it on my office wall so I can see it when I'm writing as well as make notes on it as I'm writing. I think of situations I want that character to be in. Often times I bullet point the ending and how I want that character to be involved. This allows me to to get the thought out and move on. I don't fret over having to remember it.


By the time I get these steps down, I know my characters inside and out. I understand them and can easily get the story out.

Why not try one or all of my tricks and let me know how it works?! Or do you have a different way that you get to know your characters? Tell me!

23 comments:

  1. Hi Tonya,
    You've got it right about knowing your characters. Once I've named a character, he/she becomes real. We immediately begin a dialogue. I like your idea about using an address book. Will adopt that. Have been using a small notebook to flesh out my characters. Like to put as many details as possible in my character profile. Thanks for such an insightful post.

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    1. The more details the better. You might not use all of them, but they could show up in the next novel.

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  2. As I was reading one of my stories to my little granddaughter, she looked up at me and said, "But what do they look like?" Without pictures, as in a children's book, we must use words to create "what they look like." I thought it was a great lesson for me as a budding writer.

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    1. Thanks, Nancy! Children are so insightful.

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  3. Tonya,
    I agree with you. You must know your characters. I was talking about my work in progress with a fellow author the other day, and she asked me why I didn't have the woman in my story do a certain thing. I answered, "Oh, she would never do such a thing. It's against her morals." Because I have lived with this character in my head for months now and I know her. I know the character of my character, so to speak. BTW - I would like to get a copy of your character worksheet. Please email me at gmbfictionwriter@yahoo.com. Thanks. Gerri Brousseau

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    1. Isn't it interesting that sometimes we know our characters more than we know ourselves. I love how they take over and grow from just an idea of who we thought they were. AND sometimes I don't like who they become but they still have their story.

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  4. I use character sheets, and photos, if I can find one that looks like the character.

    Another I find helpful is to write out their story in the first person, or as if I'm face to face with them.

    This character sketch gives them a voice of their own. And it's a good teaser to post on my blog.

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    1. You are definitely getting to know your characters!

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  5. I used to think "character sheets" with bios/backgrounds, etc. were a waste of time, but I know know how invaluable they are. I still don't enjoy them, but I think they're essential to complete before you get too far into the story. The better you know your characters, the more they're able to "lead you" throughout the plot.

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    1. Wouldn't we all just like to sit down and write and not have to remember those pesky details that if we don't get right come back to haunt us?

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  6. I am now learning the about character sheets, which i am keeping as flashcards in an envelope in my baf. But address book is a great idea. I didnt use them before but I find when I am halfway through I dont remember who had what eyes etc. Since I am still in learning phase I am picking up as I go and enjoying your tips too.

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    1. That is exactly what I use to do, Nicola. It got to be so frustrating that I had to do something. I wasted a lot of time going back and looking for things. Not so much anymore:)

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  7. I just toss characters into the story and they happen. Never had found character worksheets helpful because they don't tell me about the character -- writing them in the story does.

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    1. That's great Linda. Unfortunately, I have so many details with their features that I can't rely on my memory to help me. I spent way too much valuable writing time going back and trying to remember exactly how my protag's hair was cut.....tedious details get me every time.

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  8. What a great post! I do something similar --I visualize what the person looks like and then type up a Word document for each character and keep them in a character file. Then, I do a google image search and try to find someone (or a few someones) who look like the person I'm visualizing. Then I cut and paste the pictures onto the character sheet. Later, when I'm racking my brain for different descriptions, I go back and look at the pictures for inspiration!

    I love your idea of using a small address book/notebook. I keep a small notebook in my bag for writing ideas, but I'd never thought of keeping one just for characters. Great idea!

    Erin

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  9. Thanks for sharing the ways you make your characters real. I totally agree that the story has to come from the characters and not the other way around. I go to extremes in "getting to know my character." I make dolls (or dress dolls that resemble what I see in my head) and write down their entire backstory so I totally understand what motivates them. I also find photos in store ads or on the internet. Occasionally I'm able to make a pencil sketch of the character. It makes the process a lot of fun, too!

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  10. Excellent suggestions! Thanks for sharing.

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  11. The more I write, the more I feel like I'm 'finding' my characters rather than creating them. I used to think of them in terms of writing up character backgrounds and sheets, but lately, I've just been starting with a names and plotlines and let the characters 'tell' me who they are. I still think character worksheets are great to start with, though. I think it helps the process of discovering characters easier every time you do it. Eventually you start to do all of that in your head and just go ahead with the story.

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  12. I created pdf forms (one for each character) and have spaces for every bit of pertinent detail about them right down to what kind of car they drive and what their hobbies, pet peeves, and greatest passions are. I keep these forms in a binder (my current series has in excess of 30 characters, so it's a lot to keep sorted out). I also have model muses so I have a visual image of what my character looks like. This helps me associate the formulaic information from the binder forms. Probably what I should do is print out pictures of each character to file in the binder with my forms for fast and easy reference. But I find this method works very well. My characters tend to show me the extras I need to know about them as I write their stories, too.

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  13. I've also been known to "interview" my characters. Seriously, I've taken interview questions and sat down, channeled my characters, and interviewed them. It's a fun way to learn what makes them tick and to uncover their intricacies.

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  14. I use Scrivener writing software and have a section of character notes and bios. After writing my first draft and editing, I found the character's profiles changed a bit.

    I like the address book idea, how clever!

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  15. Great post! Glad I found you. :) Lately, my wip characters have been in my head constantly. Funny how they dance around my brain when I'm supposed to be working the day job! LOL.

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  16. Great post, Tonya. I've used the character worksheet method before and I usually jot down character points in my notebook (I also use the notepad app on my Blackberry quite a bit as well).
    The characature cutouts is one I may have to get a try. Looks like fun! :)

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