Monday, February 25, 2008

Voices In My Head

One of the most fundamental aspects of crafting a story is who tells it in the first place. Or rather, who the story is about. They say that Story is Character, and whoever They are, they're right. Stories grow out of the characters to which they happen. Stories worth telling, that is.

So it stands that, if you are writing, you will be spending a LOT of time on developing your characters. So will your readers, so you have to make your characters riveting enough to keep their attention. Now there are all sorts of tools to ferret out and log everything about the people who people your stories--five page spreadsheets detailing everything down to how often they clip their toenails, questionnaires, interviews, worksheets, spec sheets. They are all useful. They all can also bog you down, so use them carefully.

For me, the sheets are all but useless. I have a "picture" in my head of the thoughts, opinions, reactions, and characteristics that make up a character, but writing it all down more often than not is a futile exercise for me, because my picture may not be accurate, and I won't know it until I put the character in a series of situations and see what they actually do. Ninety-nine percent of the time, these scenes or snippets won't make it anywhere close to a finished product, or even under the eyes of a critique partner or beta reader. They're just for me and my characters to get to know each other.

I can't tell you if this method will work for you, but it's proven enlightening for me. I put the character in three or four situations to see how they react. One is a formal social situation, one is a life-threatening situation, one is a confrontation, and one is an emotional situation. Depending on the story I'm thinking of, there might be one or two other "stock" situations where I place the character in a "traveling" situation or an escape situation.

At the very least, try it if you're stuck or wondering if your story or characters are missing something.

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2 comments:

Lynda K. Scott said...

Great post, Xandra. I'm a pantser, not a plotter, and do something very similar myself to create my characters. But I'm always on the look out for new ways to improve characterization because, as you say, the story grows out of the characters and not the other way around.

Savanna Kougar said...

My characters do write the story in my head, and it becomes an organic process -- how they react/respond in any given situation, whether an action scene, social scene, their love scenes...the battle of the sexes scenes. How they grow through whatever challenges they face.