Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Playing God (Character Development)

I had a reader comment that his favorite aspect to my writing is my character development. I had to give it some thought as to what my process actually is because I just write it out and don’t necessarily think to deeply into my process as I create my characters and develop them through the story. Once I got to thinking about it I realized that I get ideas for characters from different sources. However, how I develop them through the story is generally the same.

The first two characters I started with were Bianca and Michael both of which started from dreams I had. Bianca’s was the first dream which is the opening scene of her first chapter. As a vampire, I jumped on a big burly guy who was trying to mug me, fed off of him and killed him, leaving him in the alley. I went to my apartment and prepared myself for the visit from my lover. My dream about Michael was that I was Michael and I escaped a prison from hunters and then had sex with Collin.

However, dreams are not my only resources. Phil is based off of a very close friend. Lenore is probably the closest character to being me, though I admit that all the characters are a part of my psyche. Ceneric is pretty close to my husband and Stearc is his really dark side. There are other characters that I drew from based off my life experiences, generally splashed with several personalities of people I know into one form. One example of this is Achilles in the second book who is an amalgamation of men in my life including my husband, friend’s and exboyfriends. In the second book, Fiona is based off of my high school self.

The third source for inspiration is mixing historical figures with other fictional characters creating one unique individual. Marcus is the greatest example of this. The biggest inspiration for Marcus was Marcus Antonius including different versions of him in movies and shows. However, another figure that inspired me was Alexander the Great including different versions of him in movies. Which some of my characters are straight out of history such as Antonio and in the second book, Veronica.

I first think about the character as a whole. I picture them as a complete person. There’s first what’s there on the outside which is the theme or the superficial part of the character. If we left it there, the character would be way too one dimensional. The next part is figuring out how they are on the inside. What’s their secrets and how do they view the world? Then I think about their strengths and weaknesses. Next, I think about what their motivation is. What drives them? Then, the icing on the cake is how they interact with other characters. The last part is what I find to be the most fun. I try to picture it as a TV show or movie and actually play out the scenes in my head. I think about what if these characters were real. How would they get along? How would their personalities click or conflict? Can they learn to get along with each other? Would they be enemies or could they at least tolerate each other? Could one fuck up something and destroy the relationship with the other? One pair I decided would work well with a tense friendship with lots of witty banter after the tension of their disagreements waned.

The other thing I take into consideration is the time period the character is from. What’s the relationships between the sexes and races, and the view on religion, sexuality, culture, etc. in that time and place? Then, since they are vampires, I take into consideration their development and growth throughout the ages. How much interaction did they have with humans? How does being a vampire change their view on the important issues I listed above as well? My vampires are driven by their baser instincts though they keep their personalities and can learn to tame these urges. So, how does this affect their view of the world and themselves? As for the werewolves, how does their religion on culture affect their interaction with others and their view of the world? Achilles became a punk for a reason. It’s not just a typical teenage rebellion. He is rebelling against the role he is forced into.


Since I write through first person switching point of view with the different characters, I have to keep on my toes. I have to be aware of my own feelings and perspective. I have to remember not to confuse characters and make sure that they keep their core personality every time I switch. I have to put myself into that character and make sure that I speak through them and see the situation through their eyes. They may not make the same decisions I would make so I have to remember to justify their actions to myself and the reader. To get into that persona I may watch a particular movie or show or listen to certain music. Since I am a gamer, particularly RPG of the D&D or Masquerade type, I find it fairly easy to slip into a character and become them as I write.  

The most important part of character development I believe is reviewers. You need people to read and critique your book before you publish it. I find it helpful in character development because you will find out quickly if the character comes across the way you want them too. Now, you can’t please everyone and not everyone will get into all your characters, but you want the writing to convey what you are trying to say about the characters. As the writer, it is all too easy to picture the character and know the motivations but leave out important key details in the writing. I take the feedback from my reviewers and reread the character. I can always spot where I went wrong. If I ask enough questions I can also figure out what it is about the character that gave them the wrong impression. I feel so passionately about my characters that I have to keep my emotional response in check because it’s easy to get defensive. I remember an issue recently with Marcus when I became upset and thought there is no way that I conveyed him in such a way that would be outside of who I want him to be. However, after rereading him, I realized quickly that I had because I left out details that needed to be there.

There’s a great deal that goes into character development and besides the plot itself is the most important part of the story. If the characters are not fleshed out enough you can lose your readers as they fail to relate to them. If they are too boring then the readers can lose interest. If they interact with others out of character or react to a situation out of character then you confuse your reader unless you can justify it. The story is ultimately about your characters. It’s their story.

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