Friday, December 16, 2011

Character Development and Staying in Character

Hi everyone,

Ever find it difficult to stay in character when you're writing? I do...between all the thoughts that constantly run through my mind every day, life pressures, work / life balance, family pressures and all those voices trying to vie for my attention it's no wonder why I can find it hard to hold onto the persona of the character you are trying to write!

I've asked numerous published authors during interviews how they differentiate, develop and stay in character and I thought I would make a compilation of all the answers I've received in one place so it's easily accessible. Here are some of the responses received (these are in no particular order): 

Andy Holloman "I try to keep my head clear of all preconceptions that I have and, because I use a lot of dialogue, I “practice” my characters by reading the dialogue out loud to see things from their perspective." 

Allen Schatz: "I mostly let the writing take me where it wants to go. I had general ideas of what I wanted to do with the main characters, in outline form. As the plots evolved, so did the characters. The first book was a crap shoot mostly. I had no idea where I was headed. Having more structure is what changed the most in the second and third." 

Carolyn Arnold: "I write as if I were watching a movie unfold which provides me with body language in addition to an inside mental knowledge of how they’re feeling.  There have been times when I close my eyes and breathe in deeply to immerse myself completely into a certain scene." 

Claude Bouchard: "Since I create my characters, I guess we could say I am them to some degree. As I’m writing a scene, I can visualize it, I can hear the dialogue. I know these people so I know what they are going to say and how they are going to say it. Perhaps it’s because I worked in the field of human resources for many years and dealt with all types of characters. I got to know them and that kind of knowledge stayed with me so now, when I write, I become whatever character I choose to be and do my stuff." 

David Anderson: "I need quiet, and I need no interruptions. When I am writing, I am drawn into the world I have created and the real world disappears. It’s as if I am in a tunnel, being drawn further along. Until I get tired, that is, and I have to stop!" 

Derek Blass: "I develop characters through action, by how they react in situations.  The interesting thing is that oftentimes, the characters dictate the action.  In essence then, they are dictating their own development.  That has not changed at all from my first to second book."  

Donna Dawson: "I create each character through roughly 60 questions I answer about them.  That sheet of paper is posted nearby and I refer to it often when I am writing.  It keeps me from losing facts and personality traits about the character.  For example:  One of the questions is: What is one of this character’s pet peeves?" 

John W. Mefford: "When I initially create a character, I try to write from that POV as soon as possible, and include some dialogue. After I sleep and run off to do a million other things, I can go back and read through a few key paragraphs to put me back in the mindset of that character. Many times I read the dialogue out loud. I probably change my facial expression and utter a grunt here or there as I bang out the storyline. After a character makes the first cut, I describe him/her in more detail, which helps me further shape and distinguish each person. All of that is saved in my support document – my little black book. It has all my secrets, the scoop on all the characters, and every twist and turn I’ve ever considered."

Douglas Dorow: "I just try to put myself in the shoes of the character I'm writing. The Ninth District is basically told from two POV's; Jack's and The Governors. I try to picture the scene and circumstances at the point I'm telling the story and tell it from their perspective. If I'm not feeling it for one, I'll move to a scene from the other's perspective. I've sat down before, ready to write a Jack scene and found I was in The Governor's head and had to write one of his scenes. I guess I was more in touch with my dark side at that time." 

S.L. Pierce: "I have to have absolute quiet, first of all.  Then I just sit and think about what is supposed to happen in the scene.  Then I go through, like a movie in my head, how my character responds and what they would say."  

Maren Kaye: "Music plays an important part in my writing. I love to choose music that speaks to the era and personality of my characters." 

R.J. Grand: "I create characters around the plot. They are differentiated by the positions I need them to take to show the plot developing and unfolding. I have studied behavior intently to get inside people’s minds. Feeling emotionally what they have experienced, seeing what they are viewing and drawing upon their mindset, absorbs me into the character’s mind. For example, when writing the scene where a loved one dies and what the viewing character experiences, you would have seen tears in my eyes, if you were watching me write. The process has stayed the same from writing the first book to the next." 

Russell Blake: "I work 12 hour days when I'm writing, so I remain immersed in the story. I write first drafts fast, so I'll do a first draft in a couple to three weeks, during which time all I do is write. It's easy to stay in character when you're that focused on just the story a short burst. Or at least it is for me."
If you would like to read more from any of the above noted authors, you can find their entire interview by clicking on the name links.

In addition to all the great advice given here, I still thoroughly recommend that anyone who is serious about writing strong characters like Kramer from Seinfeld or Hannibal Lector from Silence of the Lambs, that they get a copy of 45 Master Characters - Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters, written by Victoria Lynn Schmidt.

Have a great day!!


1 comment:

Kate Burns said...

I second that recommendation, Becky. I have a pretty dog-eared copy of 45 Master Characters. It is an invaluable resource for my Byward Market mystery. The character descriptions are NOT stereotypes; they are archetypes: the motivations, desires and likely reactions of a human being born out of how life has shaped them. From the Greeks, no less... five thousand years after them studying the human soul, these personality types still hold true. For nuance, try mixing a couple of them, or generate subtle conflict and subtext by having different archetypes play off each other in your scenes.