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Old 11-05-2012, 03:36 PM   #1
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Unhappy Filling out my characters?

I'm in the process of writing my nano novel and don't truly know my characters. Usually, they come to my mind as fully formed people, but these are strangers to me. I know how old they are, am not sure what they do for a living - except that the main pair are some kind of non-manual workers - and I know what a couple of the characters look like. But that's it, they're not "real" people to me, they feel flat and lifeless.

Does anyone have any tips or know of any good on or offline character charts I can quickly play with to make them real? If you do, please tell me where to find them. I'll need something which I can go through fairly quickly: nano doesn't allow me much time to play around with things I should really have done pre-November.

Although my word count is roughly on target, I have a basic plot outline etc, but I'm floundering as far as the people are concerned; they feel like pawns I'm moving around the chessboard of my plot.

Please help.
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Old 11-05-2012, 04:06 PM   #2
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I've heard of authors writing a scene where they interview their characters. Asking them things like their name, age, etc. or there was a posting not long ago where someone suggested having the character write a letter (as if to a friend or family member) about what is going on in their lives at the present time.
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Old 11-05-2012, 05:30 PM   #3
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I like the letter idea and will try it. I'm now thinking in terms of their birth signs etc. I have Story Box, I think there's a character interview in there which I'll see if I can copy and paste into Word or notepad. Thanks.
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Old 11-05-2012, 10:18 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BookCat View Post
I like the letter idea and will try it. I'm now thinking in terms of their birth signs etc. I have Story Box, I think there's a character interview in there which I'll see if I can copy and paste into Word or notepad. Thanks.
You can work it into the story to, have one character interrogate another. Not all at once, but a little here and there as you go.
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Old 11-06-2012, 02:32 AM   #5
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Just keep worrying away at it. Not much help, I know, but you're on the right track because you recognise there is a problem - that's the really difficult bit.

On a practical note, have you considered what you might cut? This sometimes brings characters into focus. Too much concern about the word count can sometimes leave you with a lot of material which doesn't quite knit together.

Last edited by MartinC; 11-06-2012 at 02:38 AM.
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Old 11-06-2012, 01:48 PM   #6
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And always remember, "Books aren't written, they're re-written." If something doesn't seem quite right in the 1st Draft that's ok, just keep writing. Chances are that you will change at least some of your text as you edit anyway, and what is important is getting those words down in the 1st place. I've also heard that a lot of writers will have an idea of how their book will go before they start writing and then find that the book goes another direction entirely when they write it. Herman Melville had this happen in Moby Dick. He had a character named Bulkington as his chosen main character starting out and then suddenly the man is washed overboard and never seen again. Why? Because Melville had met a character known as Ahab, and the rest is history.
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Old 11-06-2012, 03:57 PM   #7
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I create them by starting with the most obvious things that are visible, and work towards the less visible or less important traits and details, basing it on the more important ones. It's a bit of a reverse psychoanalysis.

For example, the character I want will need to be someone independent and charming, but a bit too nosy and who tries to stand out too much.
I'll take that part and say, they should probably be shorter than average as they like to prove themselves. Charming and nosy makes them perfect to either work as an assistant to someone, customer support or a social worker. Or, if I want them to hate their job, make it something that's the opposite and where they can't be nosy at all. And depending on their part in the story, I'll pick a more specific profession.
Independent makes me want to make them have either irresponsible or no parents, or regular parents but the person is an introvert. And if a person is cheerful, I make their birthday in summer or spring, if they're more broody, or they're overly optimistic even in the worst of times, I make it winter. And so on.
Again, with a more specific story in mind and their part in it, the choice becomes easier.
There are a lot more choices, of course... and the person above could've easily been any height, or have any job, so nothing is set in stone. Just need to make sure that whatever you pick, that it fits in in your mind. And as long as that works, it should be easy to work with the character afterwards.

And I just continue this till I'm satisfied with the background and the person's life, even if 90% or more won't be known to the reader or appear in the story. Overall, it doesn't take me long to create a believable background as long as I know the part I want the character to play, and their general behaviour.

Last edited by ekster; 11-06-2012 at 06:59 PM.
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Old 11-06-2012, 07:48 PM   #8
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Thanks everyone for all the tips. I'm aware that nano has a tendency to make writing "wordy"; I've been having amusing conversations about it. For example, during a telephone call, I mentioned to Nigel, an old friend, that my nano novel was unnecessarily wordy, with too many adjectives and adverbs, he parodied me with the following:

"As she stared in fearful terror at the gun, she noticed how its straight clean angles contrasted with the beautifully curved organic lines of the predominantly art deco ornamentation of her tastefully decorated living room."

Taking show don't tell a bit too far!

Crich: didn't a similar thing happen to Tolkein when writing LOTRs? One of the main characters started out as a villager who walks into a tavern. (I heard this ages ago, but have never read the trilogy.)

ekster: that's a great way to create characters, I'll give it a try, see if it works for me.

Thanks
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Old 11-06-2012, 09:53 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BookCat View Post
Thanks everyone for all the tips. I'm aware that nano has a tendency to make writing "wordy"; I've been having amusing conversations about it. For example, during a telephone call, I mentioned to Nigel, an old friend, that my nano novel was unnecessarily wordy, with too many adjectives and adverbs, he parodied me with the following:

"As she stared in fearful terror at the gun, she noticed how its straight clean angles contrasted with the beautifully curved organic lines of the predominantly art deco ornamentation of her tastefully decorated living room."

Taking show don't tell a bit too far!

Crich: didn't a similar thing happen to Tolkein when writing LOTRs? One of the main characters started out as a villager who walks into a tavern. (I heard this ages ago, but have never read the trilogy.)

ekster: that's a great way to create characters, I'll give it a try, see if it works for me.

Thanks
Yep, He found the hobbits meeting up with a character called Strider who later became a very important character in the trilogy. Actually though of course "trilogy" is a deceptive term with LOTR as it's really just one continuous novel that was broken into three parts because at the time the publishers felt it would be too expensive to print it all in one volume. Of course with ebooks we don't have that problem. Another idea that occurred to me was astrology. You may find possible combo's of traits for a character by creating a birthdate for him/her and figuring out if they are a Libra say rather than a Scorpio. Also there is a book available through Amazon titled "Tarot for Writers" that (among other things) uses Tarot cards to create characters.
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