Friday, 4 June 2010

Developing Fictional Characters

I’m in the process of developing three new fictional characters for Fabian. I use a combination of methods when creating new people. There’s no right and wrong way to do these things. It’s more a case of experimenting to discover what works for you.

For example, with one of these new characters I used a rather direct method. He appears very briefly in Rowan, so I already had his first name and the fact that he’s a musician. I wanted physical contrast with my other main male characters, so choices about looks were easily arrived at.

I also wanted a personality which would provide a strong contrast to my other main characters, and so he was given a big, bombastic name to match his loud, exuberant traits and the plot role he plays. For a middle name, I thought of those marvellous Victorian names, heavy with pomp. The surname had been floating around in my mind for a while, and I liked the feel of it and it sounded right.

Then I encountered a touch of serendipity. As his is a very old British family name, I ran a quick Google search and discovered that it perfectly fits the role he plays in the novel, as the name partially derives from an ancient Viking word for snake or dragon--and he has a strong protective/defensive role. The name also derives from a term for someone who had lived in a forest clearing, which segues smoothly with my infusions of certain ancient philosophies into the stories; (think of Druidic Groves, although the philosophy I use wanders some distance from contemporary Druidry.)

The second of my new characters is evolving via a much more intuitive approach. First came the name, or rather his abbreviated name. It floated into my head and stayed there. That probably sounds weird to many people, but such is the nature of my invisible friends. They turn up and do whatever they do on the cinema screen inside my head, and I just write it all down. It’s akin to taking dictation.

For this character, I have a mental impression of what he looks like. I’ll either sketch him or co-incidentally come across a picture of someone who looks just like him, (something which has happened several times before.) The character then builds slowly around what they do; more of a plot-based discovery process which I don’t even know until it’s written down. I currently have an idea of how they’ll arrive in the story, but beyond that it’s a mystery. It’ll come together as I write.

My third new character requires a different approach again. With her, it’s very important that she fits into the pre-existing selkie mythology as described in Rowan, Bethany Rose and also in a few of my published short stories. This dictates, to an extent, both her appearance and personality--but also her role within the plot. She brings a lot of plot possibilities with her, even beyond the scope of the current novel.

It is always important for all characters to do things, rather than merely be there. They have to add to the plot. Otherwise they’re taking up page space for no purpose, and slowing down the pace. The best solution is to kill them. This adds drama and frees up space for someone more interesting.

I use character charts for all my characters. Minor characters don’t need as much detail as main ones but if they’re going to stick around for a while, and be used in more than one story, then it’s easier to keep track of little details about them if you use a chart. It’s quicker to check their file than it is to wade through page upon page of MS to find the right fragment of information such as eye colour, preferred blend of coffee, catch phrase, etc.

For main characters, I keep a detailed file which will include drawings and photos of them, room plans, a photo of their car, list of likes/dislikes, habits, phrases, favourite clothing styles, books they’d read, family members, and importantly their life history in note form.

I also have a time line, which gets updated when necessary, showing main events for the whole series. The novels can be read in any order, but it’s easier for me to keep track of everything by maintaining a time line. This will become steadily more useful as the series progresses, of course.
If you’re interested in learning more about character charts, or would like a FREE chart for your own use, then visit my Hubpage here:- http://hubpages.com/hub/Character-Charts-a-Writers-Aid

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