Welcome to my self-indulgent location for the stories (good and bad) that I can't prevent myself from writing. All comments and criticisms welcome. I post on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Character Rap Sheet

My dear blogosphery friends,

I need your help.  Through much reflection, a newly received critique, and lessons learned through last week's WriteOnCon, I've come to realize that I need to do great things to improve my characters.  This is hardly a surprising discovery.  I've been slowly moving toward this for some time, and have blogged about it before.

But now I want a complete overhaul of almost every single character.

Yeah, there's one who's interesting and developed (in my not so humble opinion).  Unfortunately, she's second-string, and her deeper involvement in the stories doesn't occur until book 2 :(  Not much help when I'm gutting book 1, is it?

The plan:  I want to create an in-depth questionnaire for myself that I must answer in excruciating detail for every individual who crosses my pages.  I don't care if the character makes a 2-page appearance—well, actually I do, because it means s/he should get cut.  But each character needs to be examined under the bright interrogation lights until they sweat so much I can't read their words on the pages.

I have the following already:

Physical Appearance (eye color, hair color, other defining facial information, height, weight, scars, piercings, tattoos, is their second toe longer or shorter than their big toe? clothing style, hair style, makeup...)
General Historical Information (DoB, DoD (if applicable), education, extra-curricular activities, suspensions, broken bones, hospitalizations, first kiss, first extensive sexual experiences, mother's maiden name, heritage, children, parents...)
Personal Information (left/right handed, allergies, contacts/glasses/20-20, exercise routine or not, favorite color, food preferences, handwriting style...)
Personal Quirks (nervous gestures/ticks, sweaty hands, what do they do when they lie? phobias...)
Other Randomness:
  • What did s/he want to be after growing up?
  • Did s/he have any pets as a child?  Names?
  • Hobbies?  How serious are they?  Past hobbies since abandoned?
  • Favorite iconic figures? (actors, writers, musicians, artists, world politicians, historical figures...)
  • Video game obsessions?
  • City or country or suburbia?
  • Boxers or briefs?
  • Favorite type of music?  Favorite type of fiction or non-fiction? Drama, sitcom, or documentary?
  • Do they drink?  What do they drink?
  • If s/he had a million dollars (or applicable currency)...?
  • Left brained or right brained?
  • Favorite/Worst childhood vacation?
  • Favorite/Worst childhood memory?
  • If s/he could visit anywhere, where would s/he go first?

The problem with the list:  My list so far is a better description of who I am than anything else.  It demonstrates how I think, and not necessarily how my characters think.  The problem, therefore, is that my characters can only grow as much as I allow them to if I stick to this list.  I don't like that.  Not one bit.

(Personal information: type-A control freak...) 

My request to you, dear beloved cyber-friends:  Can you contribute anything to my laundry lists above?  What other questions should I ask my characters?  The randomer the better, folks.  Hit me with your best shot! :)

And thank you!!!


Anonymous said...

One thing I always like to know about who I read is what is their fave sent. Like Wrath from the Black Dagger Brotherhood series says he loves peaches, and his girlfriend always smelled like peach shampoo. Cause let's admit it, the way someone smells, and the smells they like say a lot about them.

Michelle. said...

What a great idea to interview your characters! Your list is a great start too!

How about social issues... are they obsessive about saving the whales/earth/whatever? Or could they care less? Are they passionate about that kind of thing or do they even know what the issues are?

Also, how are they different when they are alone than in public. Are they nervous or comfortable around others. Would they rather be alone or out with others? Introvert/extrovert kind of thing.

Maybe add some Art... are they artistic, do they wish they were but can't draw a circle. What kind of art inspires them the most... painting, photography, dance.

And (I think this is the last thing, I promise)... how someone reacts/feels/thinks about children says a lot about them too. Do they want children but can't have them? What's stopping them? Are they Scroogish around kids or are they comfortable and fun, that kind of thing.

These are my ramblings... :) Thanks for the post! It got me thinking!!

RosieC said...

Lily! Smells! Of course *smacks forehead* That's a great idea. I know the answer for only one character, so I'm gonna have to figure that out. Thanks!

Michelle, feel free to continue rambling! Those are all fabulous ideas. If you have any more, I would love to hear them (if you don't mind giving away your secrets :)

Jemi Fraser said...

Great list. Hmmm.... maybe

- do they act or react
- in crisis do they employ flight or fight
- do they hold grudges or let things go
- what songs hold real meaning for them - why
- any addictive behaviours
- how do they act/react around kids and babies
- how do they see the future

Hope that helps :)

Jen said...

You did really well with your list already and it looks like a lot of others have added some great things but if I had to add something it would be a scent my character couldn't stand, something that could always be used later to keep disgust in their voice, in a scene.

Hope that helps :)

Heidi said...

Push their buttons, make them mad. Then interview them.

Not only will you discover what really gets them upset (invaluable information!) but the way people act/respond when they're mad tells a lot about them, too. And they'll tell you a whole lot more without worrying about being polite.

I realize that what I just said could put me in the "certifiably insane" category. But these are real people, right? ;)

Heidi said...

Oh, and what inspires them?

Anonymous said...

That's a great idea! What I've found helps me is how I want the character to be perceived (lovable, despicable,confused, etc). For me it helps govern their actions and thought process and helps keep their personality consistent.

Hart Johnson said...

I nearly always start with their reactions... to people, situations... do they get mad easily, afraid? I seem to always have a smartass MC--I get to the core responses I want them to have and then write a scene (mid book or later) and get a real feel for them. Only THEN do I sort of start to 'see them'. And then I give them a birthday that has compatible personality (based on zodiac) so that I can sort of auto pilot the stuff that doesn't have immediate concerns.

I often fill in a fair amount of what you've got, but not until I know them, unless it is story relevant.

I guess that seems willy nilly, but my background is psych, so the characterization comes much more naturally to me than plot, and if I think too much about them, their responses don't seem as natural to me.

I DO sometimes pick someone(s) that has a good personality for my purposes.--In my Cozy, the BFF is sort of a morphing of my lifetime BFF and my own tartish traits--the comedic relief, if you will. In fact both she and the MC have traits of this friend and I--I just cross them so the MC has all the serious ones and the BFF all the zany ones. They're less alike that way, but it's the same package of stuff.

Summer Ross said...

try an idea : In their own words, I've seen it a couple of times on other blogs, but have your characters say what they are doing and who they are in their own words, check my blog for mine and a couple other bloggers characters too, but it really brings you up personal with them and its helped me tremendously.

RosieC said...

Jemi, those are great additions to the list. They definitely help!

Jen, putrid scents. I love it :)

Heidi, yes, they are real people! :) You're definitely right about getting them mad first and then figuring these things out. Nice angle.

Erica, also a great idea to look for character traits that others would assign them. Thanks!

Hart, you always have a smartass MC? Who would have thought? :) No, seriously, I like the idea of going to the middle and working on a scene to get a feel for them. They should be acting "normal" by then, and they're not hiding, nor are they trying to introduce themselves. Thanks.

Summer, I'll be popping over to your blog to check those out. Thanks. That's an awesome idea. :)

Elizabeth Prats said...

Oh! I may steal this list but I'll add a few for you--What are they most afraid of?

Do they have a weakness? Fear of heights? Spiders? Just hate the sound of ripping paper? What?

Cat or dog lover?

Who do they look up to?

Btw it's Evvie from the Writer's Mansion :)

RosieC said...

Hey, Evvie/Liz. Aren't you supposed to be recovering from pain meds? Get off the interwebs (after you crit my last post hehe)

Thanks for the additions. I think I'm going to update my list and report it on Thursday. Stay tuned and feel free to steal what you like.

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