L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami May 10, 2014 - 4:44pm

I used to write character-driven stories, but those usually ended up longer than my current stories. It took forever to get to the first plot turn, and I wasn't at even four thousand words in. But then I didn't really have a clear idea of the concept of bottlenecking like I do now. So it really felt more like coasting in the story. I didn't outline either.

I can understand plot should come from what the character wants, but I have difficulty actually putting that understanding into practice. I used to understand my characters, now they just feel like some giant alien slime with three eyeballs I don't much care about.

And that brings me to ...

While I never got into roleplay myself, in places I use to frequent they might have a questionair where you ask your character what seemed like a gazillion questions about how they drink their tea or coffee. Are such questionairs actually useful for writing?

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami May 10, 2014 - 5:43pm

Well I semi found the solution. I just don't tend to have a side story for each character individually, so they came out as rather plot focused. They don't seem to have lives. It just need to figure out how to give them lives outside of the plot.

simulacrum's picture
simulacrum from Las Vegas is reading shit June 24, 2014 - 12:59am

To make my point clearly, I prefer to develop my characters organically, discovering along the course of the narrative the shifts in their thought and character.

To make my point in an obnoxious and grandiloquent way, I was reading the preface to August Strindberg's play Miss Julie two days ago, I read an opinion of his regarding his characters that I identified with. He says he prefers his characters to be (bear with me, here) "characterless."

In the course of the ages the word character has assumed many meanings. Originally it signified probably the dominant groundnote in the complex mass of the self, and as such it was confused with temperament. Afterward it became the middle-class term for an automaton, so that an individual whose nature had come to a stand-still, or who had adapted himself to a certain part in life -- who had ceased to grow, in a word -- was named a character; while one remaining in a state of development -- a skilful navigator on life's river, who did not sail with close-tied sheets, but knew when to fall off before the wind and when to luff again -- was called lacking in character.

Strindberg championed the dynamic over the static, and it is my view that character is flagging, and submits to the whim of circumstance. A single quirk of fate, some sort of tragedy or grand stroke of fortune, could alter one's character in a profound way. Who here thinks the same way you did when you were a teenager? Who else's youthful idealism has died? Whose politics have changed? What priorities do you hold dear that had no place in your life years ago?

Gordon Highland's picture
Gordon Highland from Kansas City is reading Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore June 24, 2014 - 6:44am

I use them for consistency, so the guy's eyes don't suddenly turn blue in the third act or he talks about a different childhood town than mentioned previously. I also cast known actors for them, and keep a pic on their dossier for reference. Not their personalities, of course, just physical appearance. Plus a timeline of major life events, especially where they intersect with other characters. I do ask myself certain questions about them, but not minutiae, and no kind of form that I could repeat, just what's relevant for this story.

My supporting characters are specifically designed to be either obstacles or enablers to the protag. I use a color-coding system for each (locations as well as characters) on a scale from green to red, so at a glance I can get a visual idea of how much tension a chapter/scene contains. They're a list of keywords in a pane off to the side, pulled from the master list. My last book had like 50 characters (mostly minor), and nearly as many locations.

I'm talking about novels here. I don't usually bother with any metadata for a short story, other than research. I'll make maybe three or four notes about each character all in a single pane, and that's it.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated June 24, 2014 - 12:24pm

@Sarah - Have you tried just ruining their lives?  Seems to be a good way to flesh someone out.

@Gordon -

I use them for consistency, so the guy's eyes don't suddenly turn blue in the third act or he talks about a different childhood town than mentioned previously. I also cast known actors for them, and keep a pic on their dossier for reference.

I wander if maybe that would be good things to happen; in real life people switch contacts or moved back and forth between two cities a lot sometimes.  Not saying it should be done on accident though, just a thought.

My supporting characters are specifically designed to be either obstacles or enablers to the protag. I use a color-coding system for each

Do you have a color for ones who switch as the story goes?

Gordon Highland's picture
Gordon Highland from Kansas City is reading Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore June 24, 2014 - 1:03pm

I haven't changed colors to date (though there are lots of neutrals). Usually my protag's the one with the most dramatic arc, and that person will remain solid green even if they're an asshole at the start. The supporting characters may change over time, but their relationship to the main one is usually antagonistic, neutral, or supportive at least in the big picture. It's not a scientific system, just used to gauge things in general, so if I've got, say, 15 keywords for a given chapter, 13 of them would likely be static.

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami June 24, 2014 - 4:26pm

That may be the issue I'm having. I like the term mentioned above "character-less." I'm still unsure what exactly having character development means.:/

I tend to remember characters that change a bunch during the story.

Bob Pastorella's picture
Bob Pastorella from Groves, Texas is reading murder books trying to stay hip, I'm thinking of you, and you're out there so Say your prayers, Say your prayers, Say your prayers June 24, 2014 - 5:54pm

I write notes about my characters physical description, and like Gordon, cast them with real celebrities to keep them straight. For main characters, I HAVE to know their birthdays. Don't know why, but I usually have the date written down in my notes somewhere. 

You can get massively bogged down creating character dossiers, so beware. You need to know a lot about your main characters that concern your plotlines, yet minor characters don't deserve such attention. But you don't need to know EVERYTHING about your main characters. You need to know things about their personalities, because that's really what you're writing about. You need to know that if your main character pulls a gun on someone, that they actually know how to use it, and more importantly, if they will use it or not. If they know how and will use the gun on someone, you need to go just a little deeper to see if they will look into the eyes of whoever they're planning on shooting, or will they look away when they pull the trigger. Those are the kind of things you need to know, and sometimes it takes actually writing the story to find those juicy bits out about the character. 

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami June 26, 2014 - 7:56am

I've been meditating on what Dwayne mentioned. I can see this, its simply the shark tank hypothesis. If you find your story dragging and becoming boring like a goldfish, then turn your fish tank into a shark tank.

One down side is that one would need to specify if its a metaphorical shark tank, or a literal shark tank.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated June 26, 2014 - 9:16am

@Gordon - Even a stable character can go have a new relationship.  If I am Pro X and the MC changes from Anti X to agreeing with me, wouldn't you need a new color?

@Bob - 

cast them with real celebrities to keep them straight

Ditto.

@Sarah - If not you get Mary Sues.  And the great thing is you can use either type.  Or both.

Gordon Highland's picture
Gordon Highland from Kansas City is reading Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore June 26, 2014 - 12:43pm

Maybe a different color outside that spectrum would be needed for those (unfortunately, I can't modify the colors at the document/chapter level, only the project master level). Actually, what would probably work better is to just create an additional before/after keyword for that character, one a shade of green and one of red.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated June 27, 2014 - 3:11am

That sounds like it way more organized than I ever expect to be.