Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Ask the Authors: Wednesday

Do you do extensive biographies of your main characters before you begin to write? Any other procedures or programs for creating them?

Mine mostly happen in my head. I would say they're semi-extensive. I think about them all the time. If they were real it would qualify as having an emotional affair. They distract me, make my mind wander, make me day dream and I pretend to have conversations with them. This might also qualify for insanity. -- Rene Gutteridge

I’ve tried that route before and it’s never been helpful. What seems to work best for me is getting to know my character’s background, motivations, weaknesses and strengths, as I go, through his response to the developing action. (I “plot” seat-of-the-pants, too.) Of course, this means I must go back during various rewrites and weave what I’ve learned about the character into the novel’s earlier scenes. But it’s still worked better for me than personality charts, stream of consciousness biographies, etc. –Deborah Raney

I don’t take it so far as to think of what they named a puppy when they were five, and what their favorite color is, but I do have a good understanding of everything that ever happened in their past to make them behave the way they do and make the choices that they do. Knowing a main character’s back story seems pretty fundamental to me. If you don’t know their motivation, how can you know when they are acting like themselves? – Athol Dickson

I used to fill out several pages of character sheets on each main character, but found that, except for physical description and names of family members, etc, the real character did not develop for me until I started writing their story. The book is their story. So I don't do a complete biography as much as I crawl into the skin of each character and learn about that particular life, those particular desires. You must live with your characters to make them come to life. Hannah Alexander

Yes. My Character Description file for the book I've just finished, What Lies Within, is 11 pages long, and includes:

Full descriptions and pictures of the protagnists, antagonist, and any important secondary characters, such as Rafael's Force Recon team. The descriptions include everything from physical traits to the emotional issues and character arc
Any important elements to the story, such as Rafael's cane with a silver lion-head handle, Kyla's kitten, military garb and weapons, etc.
Because I'm using both Yiddish and Spanish/Spanglish in this book, I've got phrases that my characters use with the translations
Important info that I need to keep in mind, such as the structure and culture of inner city gangs
So this becomes my "manual", in essence, to be sure I'm remaining true in the story to facts and what I've said the characters will be and do. If something major changes--which always happens...a new character will appear, or a character makes it clear the issue he's facing isn't at all what you thought at first--I change the info in the file to reflect that. Karen B.

No. As an intuitive writer (no, not a “seat of the pants” writer—my seat has never touched a keyboard, um, intentionally) I work in an unending period of discovery. For me (not others but me), extensive bios lead to plastic characters. I prefer to discover facts about my characters the same way my readers do. --Alton Gansky

I want a visual and a voice. I want to see and hear my character. I want to know what she yearns for and what her life lacks right now. That gets me started. I don't do extensive biographies at first, because it tends to tie me down. I want the character to develop. I add to the biography as I go along. The character grows with the story. – James Scott Bell

No extensive biographies, although I'd never say it's a bad thing to do just that! I have to get the name first, know their basic situation and past (an overview in my mind is enough) and then I move forward from there. --Lisa Samson

I don’t write extensive biographies for my characters. But I spent so much time thinking about them that I’m well acquainted with them before I start writing. My personal approach is to simply listen to the characters as they tell me who they are. They really do have minds of their own, so my job isn’t so much to craft them as it is to discover who they are. Ann Tatlock

I learn about my characters as I write. Sometimes they start out as shadows or two-dimensional cutouts and then assume identity as I warm to the story. Then I go back and fill in the missing details as I know them. At other times, I know the character so well before I write (Kevin, the father in In High Places, was this way), that they are pretty much all there from the get-go. I don’t keep extensive biographies on my characters (other than cursory notes on age, birthplace, and so forth) because it’s not necessary – you get to know them just as you would get to know your friends. As to where they come from, sometimes they are amalgams of people I’ve known. Other times, they’re just … there. – Tom Morrisey

I determine their Myers-Briggs type and find their picture at After that, I’m good to go. The rest unfolds as I write. --Angela Hunt

I've always found it impossible to explain my process of characterization. My characters are simply "there." I know them because I seem to have lived with them for a long time before I ever begin writing. I do make brief notes about hair and eye color, age, etc., so I won't mess up the physical details somewhere along the way, but I don't do extensive dossiers. I do, however, often do a mental interview (I've done a few written ones also), just bouncing numerous questions off them to see how they respond. -BJ Hoff


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