Thursday, November 18, 2010

Let’s tackle character development again.

Specifically, we’re going to discuss a particular method for quickly and easily building a deep, multi-faceted character. Sort of a cheap-and-dirty shortcut, if you will. For the purposes of this exercise we’re going to be building a character here on earth, just as a shortcut.

Start with a single thing. Your character, currently shapeless and formless and floating in a void, is standing in his/her/its bedroom. Now pick one specific item, I’m going to sue socks.

Describe the item. For the purposes of this simple example, the socks are argyle. So what does that mean? Well, typically, argyle socks are worn by men, so the character is a dude. He’s probably also fairly serious, older, and most likely works a job in which he wears a suit every day.

Some people with suits have cool jobs, most do not. That is why the term “suit” is often used to describe a boring person. So our guy is probably an older, middle-aged, boring guy who wears argyle socks.

The suit is probably charcoal gray, something unassuming. So what kind of watch does he wear with that? Definitely an analogue watch, probably the kind that doesn’t even have numbers, just a fake diamond at the top and gold-plated hands.

So where are we now? Well, we’ve got a middle-aged, boring man, who wears a suit to work and owns a cheap wristwatch. That’s actually a pretty good basis for a character, you can extrapolate just about anything you need about his behavior from there. He’s going to be slow to react, likely to take the better-traveled past, frugal, the list is endless.

All of this came from the fact that his socks were argyle.

In The Next Progression, I used approximately the same principle to develop the character Sig. I began with his face, which has a poorly-done tattoo covering most of it, one that looks like he probably made it himself. Extrapolating from that, I determined that his all of his equipment was either poorly hand-made or stolen. He’s a barely-educated thief, always looking for the quick way out, no matter how dangerous it might be.

Having a well-developed world is important to use this technique in a fantasy novel. I’ve gone over some aspects of world-building before, which I will cover more in-depth later.

Still, the beauty of this character-building technique is that you can pick it up at any point along the tree. You start with one thing, and branch out. Starting from the argyle socks, you could determine our hypothetical character up there has a sparsely-furnished bedroom. The carpet and furniture is probably old, replaced only when it breaks. The walls are bare. You can build an entire life off of a guy’s socks.

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