Thursday, November 4, 2010

So I talked last time about the importance of outlining, today we’re going to approach character creation and development.

Now, once again, a major novice mistake lies in the lack of planning. I have had quite a few beginners insist up and down that the “best” way is to just start writing the character and see how they turn out.

As with most art forms, there is no “best” approach, but the one sited above is probably among the worst. First off, it only works assuming you are writing in order(beginning work on page one and finishing with the last page). I don’t know many writers who do this, and most professional authors use some variation of the train-of-thought method, which involves, among other things, writing out of order.

So the “write and see what happens” approach when applied to a write-out-of-order technique results in a character who is inconsistent, and may devolve. At the very least, it gives you more work to do in editing and results in a character with very little development. More often then not, you end up with a character who is a one-dimensional, plot-forwarding robot.

Much like a simple outline, creating some basic character biographies beforehand will make all the difference. When I first began the initial planning stages for Author of the Gust, I spent several days just mulling over the different characters I wanted to create. I wanted to build a cast of flawed, complex individuals, with many deep motivations and goals. After rolling it about in my head for a few days, I settled down and built a list, with a few paragraphs about each character.

They were by no means complete, but keep in mind that’s not the initial goal. Character development is a vital element to any story, and good development hinges on a firm foundation. The clinically depressed cook, for example, first appears in the story and seems to have no motivation at all. As the book progresses, more and more about his back-story is revealed, until his true motivations finally become clear: he is the main character’s uncle, and has been watching over her from the shadows for most of her life.

Don’t feel like you have to plan out every last facet of the character from the beginning. A good baseline is all you need. My current project, a book that takes place after the Course Books series, is using all of the techniques I’ll be talking about here. I have a list of characters for that entire series; some are only a paragraph with a name and a vague description of when in the story-arc they are supposed to arrive. Others have almost an entire page, including physical description, back story, goals and motivations, and other notes about their role in the storyline.

Having tried both approaches(planning and not planning), I believe I can state unequivocally that it is always better to plan. Whether you are writing a flash-fiction-esque short story or a full-length novel, the more time you put into the groundwork, the better the finished product.

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