Most of my stories start out as a scene in a place I don’t know with characters I don’t know. It takes me a lot of work to dig into my characters and figure out who they are, why they’re there, where they’re going, and so on and so forth.
Which means that during the character development phase of writing, I revert to a five-year-old.
I sit down with a notebook, write the character’s name at the top of the page, and ask why over and over again, long past the point of sanity. Why is she wearing long sleeves in the summer? To hide the scars on her arms. Why does she have scars on her arms? Because she tried to break up a knife fight. Why was she breaking up a knife fight? Because she was trying to keep one of the guys from getting killed. Why did she care what happened to him? Because he’s the only person who knows where her brother is who ran away three years ago.
And that’s generally the point where my questions explode. Wait, what? She has a lost brother? Why did he run away? How did she feel about it? Did they get along? Has she been looking for him? Has she heard anything from him since then?
So I take each of those branches and why them to death too. Usually, as my characters develop, so does my plot. Motivations become clear, side plots sneak in, and important details begin to organize themselves for slow reveal.
How do you flesh out your characters? Do they come full of detail, or does it take effort to learn about them?
I guess it depends on the character. Since I didn’t have a lot of time when I first started writing my books, the details came in little tidbits here and there, usually in times and places that were inconvenient. The shower, dreams, when I’m driving, at work/school/church. Now I have a little more time, I try to do what you do, but I’m not very good at sitting still for a period of time. Kind of like a five year old! 🙂
Haha, everybody uses different aspects of the five-year-old within. 🙂 It’s funny how inspiration does always seem to strike at terribly inconvenient times.
What a brilliant idea this is!
I generally sit down and start looking at images, pictures of clothes and houses and things, and then pick out what suits a character. Generally things develop from there such as why does he like this style of clothing? What happened in this house?
Oooh, that’s an interesting approach! I imagine that would lend to great visual development, too. I should try it sometime. I’m forever being told that I need to put in more visual details. 🙂
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I like this method! A lot of the time I find my characters by writing my way to them (which can make for a real pain when it comes to the editing phase…cutting out those things that are discovering the characters and keeping the actual story). One character I’ve been working with lately has been giving me lots of answers about the “whys” of her past — ideas just floating up to my mind while I’m trying to write particular scenes. Of course, not helping much with the scenes themselves but… I get the background at least?
Yes, sometimes it’s hard to just get the background and not get any farther on the story! But it’s so important to know that background and get a deeper understanding of your characters, so I’m glad you’re getting a lot of that with your character. 🙂
Having been a pre-school teacher I absolutely love the idea of being like a five year old! I will try that “when” I write my book.
Children can teach us so much, as I’m sure you know from pre-school! Thanks for stopping by!
I love this idea. One of the things that I have realised is that you can know your characters and then you can REALLY know your characters. It is hard to believe that there are so many levels to people of fiction who we create and yet there are. Your way of discovering all of their layers is fab. I have to say that I have not been so meticulous in my planning and it has tripped me up later down the line when I can’t answer those questions. Great post and definitely a tip that I shall take with me when I next plan a character. Thank you 🙂
Yes, it’s kind of crazy to see how detailed these figments of our imagination can be. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by, and best of luck with your character planning!
What an incredible idea, and one I’ll have to try out in the future!
I’m glad you like it, and I hope it works for you! Thanks for stopping by!
Having a five year old myself, I can’t believe I never thought of this idea. I’ll definitely be trying it out on my next short story.
Glad you like the idea! Five-year-olds are great, I love learning from them.