Monday, January 14, 2013

Character Sketches

As I mentioned in another post, I like to draw detailed character sketches of the big players in my novel before I even start writing the book.  That includes the protagonist, villain, and typically a couple secondary characters (usually the friends or romantic interest of the protag or villain).
Man, I love character sketches.  There’s nothing like really fleshing out your character and knowing what makes them beat before you even make them come to life on the page.  When I flesh out my characters, I personally (though this is just the way I prefer) like to answer a lot of questions about them, including the nitty-gritty ones.  Sure, it’s absolutely imperative I know what they want/what their biggest goals and motivations are, their deepest values and fears, etc., but I also like to figure out what was the most traumatic thing to ever happen to them, or what happened to them on the best day of their life.  Often those will tie into those deeper fears and values, but they’ll provide reasons for them, which will make the characters all the more relatable and three-dimensional, even if those particular answers are never spelled out in the novel itself.  Knowing all these types of nitty-gritty things in addition to the big characteristics of the characters help so much when you put them on the page.  I mean, then you’ll know exactly how your characters are going to react to other characters, and if you’ve done your job of fleshing out those other characters also, then you know exactly how they’re going to react, too (that might sound obvious, but bear with me).
Which brings me to my last point, which has to do with something I overheard a professor say at my school’s last residency (which also happened to be my last residency because I graduated—so sad…but exciting, too, I suppose): you’ve reached a certain level as a storyteller when you realize that tension (which makes a story go round, mind you) is much more than just minor squabbles between characters over something trivial like spilt coffee.  It’s about the core beliefs and values of each character clashing.  That’s a component of powerful storytelling, and the more you flesh out your main characters, the more intensely they will clash in your story, which will make it all the deeper and more riveting.
So, yeah, character sketches.  Go and make some right now if you haven’t already.  As for me, I gotta go clean up this coffee I just accidentally spilled on the table by my laptop.

1 comment:

Anita said...

Abbey taught a class on character. One of the questions on her character sketch sheet was something like, "What does your character like to smell?" My answer to that question gave me answers to problems I'd been having with the plot. So, I think really thinking about characters can help with a lot in the story...not just with the characters themselves...if that makes sense. :)