Groundwork continues


So, the other day I said I was all set to start my next novel. I got myself all worked into a tizzy about it, psyched and in the zone and all that bother…and couldn’t do a thing about writing it.

Much as I hate to admit it, and much as I hate doing this part, there’s still a lot of groundwork which has to take place first.

Far as I can tell, I need three basic elements:

  1. Story idea: check.
  2. Framework for the story: check.
  3. Realistic, believable characters: che—whoa. Waitaminnit.

I couldn’t very well charge forward with a story concept or idea laid over my story structure framework without characters, could I?

No, ‘course not. Only a hack would do that…right?

So I need the writerlies to sound off here.

How do you do it? How do you:

  • craft well-constructed, well-rounded characters with depth, life, vibrancy and realism?
  • create flaws and strengths so your characters aren’t “Mary Sues” or whatever the male equivalent is?
  • make a character someone readers can identify (or at least sympathize) with, and
  • give them quirks and backhanded traits which make them despicable, lovable, and three dimensional?

I mean, I need it all, yo. Jobs. Back story for each. History for each. History with one another. I need it all, and I won’t move forward without those things firmly in hand. Lord knows, I’ve been there, done that, wrote the book … and it had flat, two dimensional characters.

Anyone’s secret method will work. I myself don’t have one. *Sigh*

Sound off, let me know.

-JDT-

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14 thoughts on “Groundwork continues

  1. Just do what plenty of successful writers do (other than get naked) take people in your real life and change their names.

    You know, I never even thought of that. Can I still get naked if I do this? Good idea, WIGSF. VERY good.

    • You never thought of that. Every hacky writer does that. Hell, didn’t Stephen King do that?

      Um… don’t know if King did it or not, but I am SO tyring NOT to be a hacky writer!

      • Carrie was based on a classmate of his named Susie Snufhaggle. Christine was based on this old Studebaker his neighbour drove. The Lawnmower Man was based on his gardener in lieu of payment. What a cheapskate. He was rich by that point. He coulda paid the guy. He just didn’t want to.

        Oh, and Stand By Me was about some kids he knew when he was a kid.

        Okay, so I guess I DID know all that. Stand by Me was not just about a bunch of kids he knew; he was one of ’em. 😉

  2. Maybe this isn’t the secret you’re looking for, but I just write. That’s how I get to know them, and new characters frequently show up as I go along. Of course, then the characters solidify the plot for me, and that’s opposite of how you do it, so…

    WE-ull… I’m asking because maybe I’m doing it wrong. I think the problem for me is, the character morphs over the duration of the book from what I thought they were to what they become and that’s … wrong. I think the “changes” the character needs to go through have to be caused by the situation(s) and event(s) of the book and not because the author has a clearer understanding of them as the book evolves, right? And I’m pretty sure your characters don’t do that, so what am I missing there?

    • I think I usually have a pretty good idea of who the character is, and then the plot is somewhat decided by how they react to each problem.

      That’s what I figured. Since I don’t always have a set idea of the characters in depth, they can … um … shift, and their reactions might shift too. *Sigh*

    • And I forgot to say, my characters do evolve over the story, then I edit with that in mind.

      Do you edit to fix them more the way they are at the end or do you put them back more to how they are at the beginning? I know the characters should be changed by the events of the story, but I’m not sure how this plays out in character development and I’m almost positive the character shouldn’t change because the writer’s idea of the character shifted… like mine do. Heh.

  3. I’d really like to share my secrets on this, but I don’t have any. My main characters sort of come packaged with the story idea. I make a character list/chart with what I know at the start … and what I see when I watch the movie in my head. And then, like Sherri, I just start writing the story. Of course, I learn a lot more about them and the story as I write, but clearly that’s not the way you work. So, sorry, I’m no help.

    No, actually you and Sherri are both helping here. She writes and lets the characters help solidify the plot. I can do that even in my method because while the story framework is there, the characters will dictate the way the events unfold. Now, I can’t just come up with a character and let the story form from nothingness — that just ain’t me — but I also don’t always have a clear character idea when I come up with the story. (There are exceptions, but even in those exceptions, the character has only the barest formation as it relates to their role in the story, and a lot of detail is left out.) So the idea of jotting down what I do know and then developing that…might just be helpful. 🙂 Thanks Linda!

  4. See if your library has a copy of “Characters and Viewpoint” by Orson Scott Card. It’s got some great stuff on what causes readers to identify with characters.

    Cool! Thanks, Bryce. (I’m almost sure they don’t, however; I’ll double check, but… 😦 )

    I’m re-studying “Techniques of the Selling Writer” by Swain right now and I’m in the part about creating characters. He warns against spending too much time writing detailed histories for your characters – it keeps you from writing the real story.

    Hm. Good point. I get drowned in details.

    Off the top of my head, here’s what Swain suggests that each main character needs:

    -A dominant trait.
    -A secondary trait that contrasts with the dominant trait. (e.g., He’s a scum-sucking bottom feeder of a lawyer who is rude to everybody {primary}, but he genuinely loves and protects his 8 year old daughter, and can’t be a shark around little kids.{contrasting secondary})
    -Character tags: catch phrases/manners of speaking, physical descriptions, general attitude of his responses.
    -A definite purpose in the story. As in, the story just wouldn’t work without him/her.
    -Marked difference from every other main character.

    Good stuff there, B. Maybe I can find this Swain guy’s book too. 🙂 Thanks!

  5. Hi! Generally, my stories start with the characters rather than the other way around. The idea for the story begins with a character who has some sort of challenge or crisis or crime that sets up the plot. Then the story develops as the main character works through whatever issue has been established at the core of the story.

    This is a good point. I think a lot of writers work this way. I never have, though, and it’s a little like teaching an old dog a new trick. Still, I think I might like trying it. I don’t think I can just come up with a character and sit at a keyboard and see what happens, though.

    One of the best ways to learn about character development is to read novels by established authors who write the same type of stories you write. As you read, study the way the characters are introduced and the techniques the author uses to make them real. Dialogue is usually a key element.

    I’ve done a lot of reading and characters still don’t fall out of my head, but maybe I’m doing something wrong. 🙂

    Readers don’t like characters (even main characters) who are perfect. So everyone in your story needs to be flawed (and those flaws will become clear to you when you do your character outlines for each person in your story). And readers like to be pulled into the story, feeling as if they actually know the people who are traveling through the story.

    I think character outlines in detail might be the thing I do next here. Thanks!

    So, in my opinion, the characters in your story should be the very first thing you develop rather than the last. Once the characters have taken life, the story will miraculously unfold.

    Well, as I said earlier, I don’t see this particular trick working for me. I make up a character in my head, I’m also going to need to make up a situation for them to be in. I doubt anything will miraculously unfold. But every writer’s a little different, so maybe I’m selling the technique short. Hey, that’s why they make chocolate AND vanilla, right? 🙂

    There are a number of posts in my blog that focus on characters, if you feel like scanning through the headings and bold print since the launch last November.

    I will check it out, thank you!

    Good luck as you move forward! Hope we can stay in touch.

    I hope so too! Thank you for coming by and letting me know what your thoughts are. I’m very happy you did. 🙂

  6. Ohmygoodness…ride the bus Darc. It has given me more characters than I could have imagined.

    Hahaha! Hi, Jaymie! Nice to see you again! Well, it’s not the bus, but I did ride the train regularly for eight months or so. And you’re right, there’s a plethora of people on it, of course. Problem is getting to know them in depth. Any ideas there?

    • I think because I was sort of a lonely kid I have always imagined back stories for folks. I also try to talk to strangers a lot (don’t tell my mom, lol). I try to imagine how they developed their stride, what they were doing when the lines first appeared in their face, if the melody of their voice might have been different when they were younger, it seems to round them out for me.

      Interesting stuff, Jaymie. Talking to strangers? Oh my! 😉 Good to see you again!

  7. My buddy wants to write a novel, and he said that typically draws his characters from people he knows, or people he meets. Even if it’s for a few moments, if he found something fascinating, odd, or wonderful about them, he’ll stem from that.

    There seems to be a consensus about doing this; must be a valid method.

  8. What WIGSF said. Most writers pull elements from friends and relatives to create characters. If I was going to write a novel I would use parts of the people I work with or know. I’m not God, I can’t create life. 🙂

    Well, it’s certainly something I guess I’ll have to try. And the people you encounter at work would most definitely make for some pretty interesting characters. Not sure anyone will find them believable though. 😉

  9. If you don’t want to steal characters from your life, borrow them from other successful pieces of fiction. Like, I don’t know, take Neo from the Matrix, change his name to Joe and throw him into a completely different setting. That could be fun!

    This I’ve actually considered, but I’m such a lousy writer, everyone would be able to tell who they were, prob’ly. 🙂 I think borrowing from my own experiences is pretty safe. I’ve known some pretty … um … quirky people. 😉

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