Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Who Are You Inviting?

I'm not sure if other writers feel this way, but for me, when it comes to writing, I need to have a solid idea of who my characters are before I start.  I may not have every tiny detail worked out, but I have a good idea of their general personality traits, their flaws, their strengths.

I liken this to hosting a dinner party.  Long before I plan the menu or select the vino, I think about who to invite.  Which guests will mix well with the others?  What common bonds might they share?  I may think to myself that I surely have to invite Tyler - he's always good for jokes and injecting humour into an evening. And of course, I have to invite Jim - he always has wild stories to tell.  Julie just got back from a trip to Brazil and I can't wait to hear about the trip.  Donna will probably bring her guitar and after dinner drinks may turn into a sing-along.  And I know that if I invite both Liz and Andrew, there will likely be a heated debate about politics or current events since they are polar opposites.  

You get the idea.  

Once I know who I'm dealing with, the plot slowly starts to come together.  If I know Andrew is a bit of a hothead, then it will be easy for me to thrust him into situations and know just how he will react.  And when it comes to dialogue and Tyler - piece of cake because I know he will crack wise at any opportunity.

There are all sorts of charts and lists that one can create (or find online) to help you with character development, but I don't use any of those.  I'm fairly loose about backgrounds - what I do for one I may not do for another.  But generally, for most of my main characters, I'll figure out:

  • political leanings - and do they usually vote?
  • zodiac sign
  • education (major), or did they drop out of high school?
  • religion - whatever it may be - do they practice it actively?
  • where they fit in the family tree (middle child, youngest, etc.)
  • relationship with parents (and were they divorced?)
  • ethnic/cultural background
  • attitude towards some "hot button" issues, like marijuana, immigration, gay marriage, etc.
  • talents/hobbies that have nothing to do with the plot or with their jobs (do they play an instrument or are they on a sports team?)
The list could go on and on (do they prefer Coke over Pepsi, Apple or Windows, are they afraid of heights, do they have/do they like pets, do they have any allergies, etc.) but the above points usually give me an idea of who my character is.  And that's a great start!

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