3.7.12

IWSG: Getting to Know Characters...and You!

In case you didn't get the memo, since tomorrow is the 4th of July and therefore we Americans will be busy eating weenies and exploding things, Alex J. Cavanaugh's Insecure Writers Support Group will be held today through Thursday.

This month I'd like to talk about character profiles.  I don't do them.  So whenever I read some great tip on creating a character profile or about the in-depth "off screen" backgrounds many writers dream up for their characters before they even begin writing their novel, I get a little insecure. Like, maybe my characters are shallow because I haven't ever thought about what their favorite color is or decided under which astrological sign they've been born.

But the thing is...I know my characters aren't shallow.  One of the most consistent compliments I get on my writing is how real feeling and multidimensional my characters are, even the ones on the sidelines.  So I think the deal is that I just have a different process for getting to know the players in my stories. This is how it seems to work: instead of writing out a detailed profile, I create a mental sketch of each character, and as I write the first draft, I get to know them better so that by the end of it, we're all quite intimate. During the second draft, I frequently smack my forehead and mutter, "No way would she/he ever say/do that!" and then I rewrite that dialogue/scene/whatever it takes so that the character is true. Further refining occurs in the third draft.

While I don't do a lot of pre-thinking about my characters' intricacies, I do have some fun with the post thinking, as evidenced by these quizzes I created for the Daves, in my novel Three Daves (currently on sale, details below).  I promise they're short, so please choose one and take it...cuz I'd like to get to know my blogging friends a little better too. ;)





Have a wonderful 4th, wherever in the world you are.

21 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Nicki, if you can create great characters without the profile sheets, then don't worry about it.

Heather Murphy said...

YEAH! I got David :)
I think your characters are very realistic and likeable, no matter how you come up with them. Do what works!

Suze said...

'as I write the first draft, I get to know them better so that by the end of it, we're all quite intimate'

This sounds familiar. I think there are more writers that don't do character profiles as a separate exercise than those who do. For many, you and me included, it's spending time with the characters in their scenes that helps us get to know them in a more organic way. That said, a while ago, I did a little profile of a narrator in a post, having her answer questions for a blog award instead of me -- and that was fun!

L.G.Smith said...

I ended up with sensitive David. Not bad. :)

And I do both with my characters. With some I know a detailed background about them, including their astrological sign (since I deal with prophets :D ), and others I get to know them as I write. I don't think there's any one formula for writing. Lots of ways to get to the end product. It's all about the revision in most cases anyway.

Happy 4th!

Janie Junebug said...

I recognized myself as soon as you mentioned eating wienies. Oh. Wait a minute. I thought it said weenies. Yeah. It's weenies that I like. Do I spoil your blog and chase away people with my naughty comments?

Love,
Lola J. Junebutt

Annalisa Crawford said...

I ended up with Big D, but I think I'd panic a bit on a first date!

I don't plan out my characters either - they show themselves to me through their actions, and surprise me sometimes, too!

Neurotic Workaholic said...

I ended up with the fraternity guy, which is funny because I always thought that a lot of the frat guys were cute when I was a college student. I have written character profiles before, though I don't always follow them to the letter. I find it helps when I'm trying to figure out how to flesh out the characters. It also helps when I have writer's block, because coming up with different aspects for each character can be good writing prompts.

Cherie Reich said...

Everyone has a different process when writing, so don't worry about your process having to match up with anyone else's. :D

Donna Shields said...

Lol. Eating weenies and exploding things. So true. I am generally familiar with mine by the first chapter. I don't usually need to keep notes on them as they're in my head.

Tara Tyler said...

some people know their characters well enough not to have to write it down. lucky!

Stephanie said...

I always ask two questions of my main character and my antagonist before I get too deep into writing. "What one thing do you want the most in this moment, and what are you not willing to do to get it?"

No fuss with astrological charts, hair and eye color and complex back stories going back to how their grandparents met. All that would just serve as a distraction for me. When I worldbuild, it's because I don't know what to write.

Happy 4th, Nicki.

youngbloodblog said...

thanks for your honesty. I empatize with the Muse—yours and mine—and her ability to place my characters before me and kindof say: there you go. Now work at it!
Hope you enjoy letting off explosives somewhere thrilling : oops we foreign persons arent supposed to call them explosIVES;that gets homeland security upset: enjoy your exploSIONS.

Donna Hole said...

I write my characters profiles as they come to me during the writing. Some things I need to keep consistent, others I just need to explore for myself.

I have a character that started out as a despicable bad guy; and had I developed a character profile for him prior to getting to know him, I never would have written such a unique character.

I think if you absolutely need the guideline to get started, then it is the right thing for you as a writer. I've found that plotters and pantsters write at about the same pace; so the difference in styles doesn't mean anything more than which back road you take to the grocery store.

In the end, a great novel gets written, and revised and submitted, and goes where ever it goes.

......dhole

DL Hammons said...

Me and Big D are having a hell of a bromance! :)

And you are so right...everybody's process is different. I don't do character studies either and yet I know each and every one of them inside and out. There is no one right way!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

My Dave is the sensitive loner.

I've always created detailed character profiles before I ever begin writing and often before I begin creating the story. But if your way works, stick to it.

Jennifer Lane said...

I love your characters! I don't use the profile sheets either, but I have looked at some of the prompts and found them useful for creating character quirks, like favorite phrases, music, "type", etc. Like you, I envision the characters in my head and that seems to be sufficient.

Feather Stone said...

Good heavens, Nicki. There's just no end to your talents. Loved your article on developing your characters. Feather

Hart Johnson said...

Punker Dave and you think it won't work?! I'll have you know I MARRIED my punker Dave...erm... Bob... and it hasn't been EASY, but it HAS been 21 years... teehee. Seriously though, I think all of us have different processes that work with out strengths. Like you, I am more intuitive on my MCs and fix stuff later if the character seems to evolve as I get to know them. I have a degree in Psych though, so I think personality and consistency is something I just am good at. For MINOR characters I'm more likely to dig into astrology just to keep someone consistent who I won't actually spend enough time with to get to know...

Lexa Cain said...

You're way nicer to your characters than I am. Mine are consistent, but I mold them to fit my story. There's no one way or even a best way. Whatever works for you is what you should do.

Susan Oloier said...

The quizzes are so much fun! Love it!

Theresa Milstein said...

Hope you had a fun fourth.

Cute quiz! I don't do character sketches either. My feeling is that I get to know the characters as I go. And when I edit, I can enhance them.