When do you Create Character Profiles?

On Twitter I asked advice about what to do about minor, inconsistent characters.

A Twitter friend said I should write down everything I know about them and that can become a reference. That sounds like a character profile to me.

I haven’t created character profiles for the WiP yet. I could have, especially for the main character and the secondary characters I knew about. But I wanted to get on with it, you know? I didn’t want to stop and fiddle with an excel file or a word file for the characters. Instead, if I forget the eye color or something, I go back and look it up.

I need to create character profiles now. I’ll probably wait until the WiP is done or create it now. I haven’t made up my mind. I do know I’ll be using OneNote app on my tablet. I want to try it out and it seems perfect for this. Better than either excel or word.

Is doing it this way a bit weird? At least this way I’ll have a list of all characters that need a profile.

And I’ll know what kind of things I keep looking up: physical characteristics, descriptions of surroundings and stuff like that.

Also, the more nebulous, personal stuff that I know is changing right now from appearance to appearance for minor characters, the stuff that makes a character a character, and that stuff that needs to especially consistent. (Unless something happens to a character that makes them change, things that don’t usually happen to minor characters.)

It feels a little backward, to create them at the end of a novel instead of the beginning. Who else creates character profiles at the tail end of a WiP?

Y is for Yelp and Other Sounds Characters Make

Y is for yelp and other sounds characters make. Other sounds include, but are not limited to: squeal, squeak, grunt, bark, snarl,

Hear Me Snarl

growl, hiss and whimper.

One of my favorite writers, Anne Bishop, is particularly prone to making her characters snarl, growl and whimper. On rare occasions it annoys me.

But other writers, ones I like less, have their characters grunt and growl their way through the page. It is beyond annoying, and may lead to me putting the book down. It’s just so irritating – no one grunts/growls/barks every sentence they say. And if they do, there is still no need to put these tags in every other bit of dialogue.

Also, sometimes even with the dialogue tag, I cannot hear the sentence as a grown/grunt/whimper.

Does this annoy you? And, whether it does or doesn’t, can you always hear the sound in the dialogue?

X is for X Placeholder

X_GI use X as a placeholder. His friend X, Uncle X, baby X, pet X, and event X and so on.

Lots of times I don’t know what the character’s name is and I don’t have time to go searching baby name websites for a good name. So the picture-placeholder-femalecharacter becomes X on the page. It’s a silent reminder to find a name later.

It’s the same thing for scenes. Sometimes I’ll be writing and I need a scene to show something somewhere in the middle of the story. I’ll insert Scene X in big bold letters wherever the scene needs to be.

As for why X and not A or – or some other symbol as a placeholder? I don’t really know. I suppose X represents the unknown to me. No doubt this is a result of spending years in the classroom being told to Find X.

How do you deal with unknown characters?

U is for Unchangeable and Unchanging Characters

Some characters are unchangeable, unchanging, and in fact, have no business changing.

This isn’t the normal thing that is taught in writing classing and it is not the normal writing advice given. But, months after watching the Skyfall, I have become convinced of the truth of it.

I blogged about Skyfall after I saw the movie. I don’t mention it in the post, but I feel like this movie hurt Bond’s icon status.

In this movie, 1) Bond grows older and 2) also has a past, complete with parents and big house.

Someone asked me how it was and I replied: emotional. Which is damn odd for a James Bond movie.

Before this movie he was the Man of Mystery. He had no past, no future, few connections to people other than a bevy of Bond Girls in each and every movie.

The only movie he ever changed in was the one where the girl he was in love with betrayed him and broke his heart. Nothing otherwise.

Every writing class, most every piece of writing advice will say that characters need to grow. Good stories have characters that grow and change.

I feel like someone tried to do exactly that to James Bond in Skyfall and it failed.

I feel like him getting shot by friendly fire, retiring in the Caribbean, and coming back vastly off his game were attempts to give him a character arc he wouldn’t have otherwise. I also feel like he doesn’t need to have a character arc necessarily.

James Bond is an icon. No need to mess with that.

Or if they insist, they ought to have done it slower. Lots slower. The character development should have been done at a snail’s pace, over a number of movies. That might have worked. As it is, I just feel like they were trying to shoehorn a past and development and all that jazz into his character.

Also, at the end of Skyfall, he says he’s ready for the next mission at the end and its business as usual. So, yeah.

I have to reconsider if I even want to see the next James Bond (comes out next year!) in theaters. If it is like Skyfall, than maybe not.

O is Opinionated Characters

Sometimes, in order to get know a character, I pose issue questions to them and figure out where they stand.

This sounds bizarre, asking questions of people who do not exist outside of my head. You would think I already know where they stand. I mean, I made them up, didn’t I? But mostly I don’t.

By issue questions, I mean controversial issues, topics on religion and politics and whatever else causes arguments. They will differ by time and place and setting. Because characters need opinions, right? Things they will do and the lines they will not cross.

And today – today I was reading a post by John Scalzi about what he calls The Four Levels of Discrimination. He makes a good argument about ambient discrimination. (You should read it.) I used to think of this as unconscious biases. But ambient discrimination is a good way to describe it, too.

Anyway, the question I have never asked my characters and now I realize would a good question to ask: what ambient discrimination affects them? Against the character or against others, it hardly matter which.

It’s a kind of world building, too – figuring out what will cause the natives to turn into rioting mobs. That’s fun also. (Causing riots!)

The challenge here, I think, is to keep the opinions from turning them into willful characters, who insist on doing something, when I want the plot to go in another direction. (I sometimes fail at this challenge.)

That sounds mad, I know, because I came up with the characters and I damn well ought to be able to tell what to do. But sometimes that does a disservice to the character.

What do you think? How do you go finding out who your character is?

Changing Character’s History

So I just realized the major I’d chosen for my character’s college years was entirely wrong. Oh, it never felt right in that bone deep where you just know something is correct. It was the Romance Language program at Harvard, in case anyone was wondering. But I thought it would suit.

I realize now that it really doesn’t. I know more about his life and his passions than when I decided that (a year ago). Now I know a degree in the fine arts will suit him much better. It won’t affect his job much. But I thinking it will be a much better match for the rest of his life. In fact, it might make his work easier (it involves a fair amount of art-ish stuff.)

This is the third time I changed his major on him (first was lit and than law). But it feels right now. Really it does. It feels right in a way it didn’t before.

Fortunately, I haven’t mention it too many places, so changing it will be easier. Working other mentions of it in the text should be relatively straightforward, too.

Craft of Writing Science Fiction That Sells: You Are A Writer

I was reading The Craft of Writing Science Fiction That Sells by Ben Bova and this quote from Ernest Hemingway jumped out at me:

All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that it all happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer.

I think this is the best idea of what makes a writer that I have ever seen. That it comes from a writer whose works I don’t usually enjoy strikes me as odd.

I think this is the ideal. You want all that, you want the reader to feel the story so deeply that they don’t forgot, so deeply that they come back to the story over and over again.You want the reader to get lost in the story and never want to leave. You want the reader to care deeply about the character’s sorrow and joy.

I also think it’s incredibly rare and that stories that do this won’t be the same from everyone. It’s too subjective.

Even so. I think to feel that way, you need a character you really connect to. I mean, as a reader I know I do. If a book doesn’t have a character I like, it’s very hard for me to read it. (This is why Game of Thrones remains unread on my kindle.)

And by connecting, I don’t mean the reader has to see themselves in the character. I really, really don’t see myself in Eve Dallas, Jaenelle Angelline or Miles Vorkosigan – three characters I love most and series I reread frequently. But I still connect, I still sympathize with them and I still like spending time with them.

Rereading the WiP

So I came back to the WiP after not writing for a month. It was a good month, just not one meant for writing. Or blogging. Or reading, even. Well, I read more than I blogged or wrote, but even reading was minimal.

So I felt the urge to write again and opened up my file and I find I have forgotten details of my own story. Like, names. They include the names of various business and characters and so on.

Okay, yeah, the characters are minor and so are some of the business. But really!!! Does not remembering mean I should not have attempted to turn into something other than stock characters? I am not going to spend hours and hours on characters that only appear a handful of times, but that doesn’t mean they don’t get names and at least a few words of description. Does it?

Also, I didn’t expect to forget little details of the lives of the secondary characters. That’s even worse than forgetting the names of minor characters.

I realize now I have to reread the whole damn thing and resist the urge to edit while reading. I wasn’t expecting to have to do that. There are lots of pages. Thousands and thousands of words. It’s going to take a few days before I can actually start writing again.

Brainstorming A Short Story

On Friday I did a drabble that I fell in love with. I want to expand and I decided to brainstorm.

My brainstorming went something like this:

I considered three things: looks, plot, character.

1) Looks: I’d already given it hands, so it couldn’t be an animal. I thought maybe a being that has no set shape, but changes shapes as it chooses. Or a people-shaped creature made of mist. Or, my personal favorite, something like a Chinese dragon that lives in the clouds. Not really sure yet.

2) Plot: In the drabble, the dijnn (that’s what I’m calling the creature) escapes the wizard, so obviously, the wizard has to capture the dijnn first. Maybe a trap, maybe for a rescue. The wizard needs a reasons to try and capture the dijnn and I’ve some ideas on what that might be.  Nothing solid yet though.

3) Character: I wrote something down about this, but I don’t really have any idea what the character will be like. I don’t know if the character will actually have those traits. Maybe, maybe not. I figure it’s best if I let the character develop organically.

None of this even considers the dijnn’s society, how they live in the clouds, what they might fight about, and that’s what I’m really, really curious about. Maybe my dijnn has an enemy who helps the wizard. Who knows? Not me! Which is damn sad, because this is my story. But I want to find out.

So now I got to ask . . . how do you brainstorm? Do you think about these same things?

The Anatomy of a Story: I want, therefore I am

Last week, I found a fantastic book on writing: The Anatomy of a Story by John Truby. It’s a keeper (much like King’s On Writing.) I think I first heard about it from an author chat on twitter. It has some of the best analysis of what a story is that I’ve ever read. And I’ve read a lot of books on writing.

The first lines that jump out at me are:

The “story world” doesn’t boil down to “I think, therefore I am” but rather “I want, therefore I am.” Desire in all of its facets is what makes the world go around. It is what propels all conscious, living things and gives them direction. A story tracks what a person wants, what he’ll do to get it and what costs he’ll have to pay along the way.

I’m always ecstatic when a character comes to life in my head. Writing is easy and it feels like I am not writing, just describing the pictures in my head.

I am theorizing that happens because I connect with the character’s desire. In the moment it is real to me, that feeling will come a lot easier.

It makes sense. I mean, a lot of stories are about what character is trying to do, isn’t? Whether that’s to solve a murder or find someone to share their life with. Or, in the case of my MC, find the drug source and keep all hisloved ones safe at the same time.

I am thinking, I need to know my character’s desires, both short-term and long-term. His professional goals (easy! ha! this is the whole story), and a more personal, more emotional desire. To an extent, this is the same (backstory! such bloody, fantastic drama!).

I am not sure if I need other layers. Emotional and/or spiritual desires? I am thinking not. He thinks doesn’t think a love life is possible for him anymore and he’s not really open to it. Family? Hmm. Maybe.

Thing is, I knew almost none of this when I first started writing the novel in progress. I had to backtrack, go forward and back a few times before I figured it out.

How many others know the all the different desires of the character before they start writing?