Before I broke ground on what will hopefully be my first completed short story (should finish the first draft this weekend), I fell into what many seem to find – the spinning black hole that is research, research, and continual research. Looking back, I wish I had kept track of the enormous amount of time I wasted. I’m sure it’s a ridiculous number, however, I did find a few diamonds sites that will continue to prove worthwhile.
Part of my research focused on character creation, more specifically how a writer’s characters take shape and come alive. I’ve never had a problem with putting the basics on paper but was and still am very interested in hearing how others do it. There is a ton of material out there for this, especially if you count the character sheets and generators normally used for role-playing games. Since my initial writing will be in the fantasy genre I ran into a ton of that type of thing. I actually stayed away from them and kept my search pointed toward those websites and resources focused on helping writers.
There are two main websites the proved extremely helpful.
1. The resource page of National Novel Finishing Month
Each of them have more materials than I’ve even used at this point, but I really like the generators on The Seventh Sanctum and the character sheets on NaNoFiMo. The generators are amazing. While I haven’t used anything exactly as it was ‘generated,’ I have used it several times when I hit a block on how my new character, Yuri, might act or some of the experiences he might have.
The character sheets, on the other hand, I honestly haven’t used much but can see how they’d prove helpful. My thought is to establish the basics of who Yuri is and then let him evolve before working on things like his background story, motivation, etc. I did start out with a basic outline of his character but found that as soon as I started writing him into his current situation, he changed tremendously. He went from an elf, to a dwarf, to a gnome, which of course meant that most everything else had to change too. We’re now to the point that I can mentally see him and feel like I’ve gotten to know him, so maybe I’ll fill that sheet out again in the not-to-distance future.
If anyone out there has had experience using anything similar, please feel free to comment. I’d still love to hear how others develop their characters, and whether or not you’ve had success with things like the generators or character sheets.
It’s amazing how much a broken ankle is a perspective changing event. Suddenly, I can’t go outside by myself for fear of slipping on the ice. All the small things are now so much more time-consuming and difficult. I now understand why elderly people will fight tooth and nail to keep their right to drive. Mobility means so much in this world.
Since I have so much free time and the lack of mobility to do much with it, today I’m going to bring back a past-time from my creative-writing days. People-watching. Not in the sense of making fun of people but in a more constructive way.
Here’s the process. Go to a comfortable place with a fair amount of public present – i.e. a coffee shop, mall, etc. You’ll need a notepad and a pen or a laptop. Coffee shops are generally my favorite because the clientele tend to stay longer than what you might get in other public places. Find somewhere comfortable to sit and then just look around.
Take in your surroundings. Make notes on the background sounds, smells, overall atmosphere. Then take a look at some of the people around you. Find someone who catches you as interesting. This will be your character. They could be very similar to you or you could be complete opposites. You’ll find that the type of person you focus on will change every time you do this.
Once you’ve found your character, you have two main options on how to write. You can try to put yourself in their shoes, making their story as realistic as possible for this person. Or you can just write, using the real person as a starting point but not worrying where their story takes you. Now write. Write their background, their life, why they’re in the coffee shop, anything that helps explain who they are. Spend at least 15 minutes continuously writing, with no pauses. Don’t stop short though, if 15 minutes isn’t enough just keep going.
Once you’re done, relax and give your character a name. Then put your pages away and don’t look at them for at least a day. This will give you some separation before you do any revising.
If any of you should happen to do this, let me know how it goes. I’ve always been a huge fan of people watching and really enjoy taking it this extra step.