#NaNoPrep 101 Week Two – Creating Characters

Four characters sitting around a table: a teddy bear, a blue-faced woman, a woman in a wrestling mask and wood-sculpture faced man

This second week of NaNo Prep 101 is titled Create Complex, Believable Characters .

The exercise provided includes character questionnaires that you may find useful, but the final three questions are the most important:

  • Want
  • Need
  • Internal/External obstacles

Where I begin my characters

Weeks ago when I began the Writer In Motion Challenge, I talked about the Character Creation Spreadsheet I’ve created as a tool to spark my stories. Through my experience with quick-deadline short stories, especially participating in The Writer’s Games, I’ve learned that creating well-rounded, interesting characters inspires an interesting plot with conflict and purpose.

I am reading Mastering the Process by Elizabeth George and in Chapter 3 “Digging Deeper into Character” she gave me some ideas for new columns to my spreadsheet.

1. Core Need: This is the underlying motivation for everything the character does. The character may not be self-aware enough to know their core need, however, they will be by the end of the story. Elizabeth George gives some example of core needs as: approval, perfection, to be right, attention, etc.

I put the core need column right after the name columns in my spreadsheet and went searching for more (which reminds me, I need to add to my names columns. It may be time to weed out some over-used names as well). My search led to many articles of 6 core needs, 7 core needs, up to 10 (of course) human needs, but   I wasn’t attempting to dilute the idea to an easy list, so I have 31 so far and will keep adding.

2. Psychopathology or “Pathological maneuver”: Here’s where it gets fun. We all have moments where we are stunned by our own words and actions. We sit there asking ourselves, “Why did I do that?” Our actions are contrary to our needs and desires. Sometimes we even self-sabotage.

Elizabeth George calls these actions “pathological maneuvers.” In her list of these behaviors she includes: showering for hours, kleptomania, hoarding, and bullying. She also includes all manias and phobias, obsessions, and compulsions. In my column, which I put directly after the core needs column, I looked up lists of manias and phobias and will keep adding.

I already have a core fear and secondary fear column on my spreadsheet, but they are more about the underlying beliefs than the manifestations in actions. It will be interesting to see what comes to mind when the fears and behaviors collide.

With these two aspects of the character influencing thoughts and behaviors every scene will have an agenda and tension. I’m excited to try out these new additions to my Character Creation tool and see who is coming to play in my next story.

The Future and My Character Creation Spreadsheet

I started thinking about specific characters for my NaNoWriMo Novel and realized I needed a new Character Creation Spreadsheet. Naming trends will be different, as will occupations, hobbies, causes, maybe even fears. With those thoughts in mind, I decided to create a science-fiction-specific character creation spreadsheet.

Review of Character creation and development

Over the years I have collected many writing references and almost every one has a chapter or more on character creation and development. I thought this week would be a good time to review the materials I have and select exercises and ideas for this project.

Masterclass

I got myself a full-access pass to Masterclass.com in 2019 and really enjoy it. Each class comes with a workbook. I thought I would take a look through some of my favorites and see what they have to say about character.

Margaret Atwood had an interesting chart that she uses to reference her characters in time. The chart has the months on the left and blanks along the top for years. She begins by charting the character’s birthday. Then she charts dates of major events that influence that character.

Neil Gaiman likes to find his characters through listening, so his character development is about condensing speech and interviewing your characters.

David Mamet says there is no character, only actions. This idea correlates well with this video from Pixar in a box:

Joyce Carol Oates encourages getting to know your characters as if they are people you have met in real life. She says it’s important to choose characters who fascinate you. Write an exploration into why exactly they are so important / unique to your perspective.

Books

Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer explores four main approaches to characterization:

  1. Obsessive Immersive – includes stream of consciousness to be fully inside the character as if living inside a brain
  2. Full (rounded) – interior thoughts and emotions, but the thoughts of the character do not define everything
  3. Partial – characters remain mysterious to some extent. Idiosyncratic/ Type driven.
  4. Flat – folk tales/ fairy tales. Archetypes existing on symbolic and literal level.

Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass – The first twelve chapters are Character Development. Almost all of the exercises are about increasing stakes and conflict. Once I have created some characters to play with, exploring these exercises will definitely help me come up with some plot points.

Wired For Story by Lisa Cron focuses on the importance of the reader relating to the protagonist to have a visceral, emotional reaction to the story. What moves a story forward is the protagonist’s actions, reactions and decisions (agreeing with Mamet?). Character bios should concentrate on information relevant to your story.

Now Write! Screenwriting edited by Sherry Ellis and Laurie Lamson – Anything that makes it easier for you to create your characters is a good tool. Explore the public, personal and private lives of your character. Find your character’s dramatic truth. Characters’ actions under duress demonstrate who they really are (this is sounding familiar).

To produce active characters ask:

  1. What does my character want?
  2. Why does s/he want it?
  3. Why can’t s/he get it?
  4. What does s/he need?

Identify protagonist’s inherent weakness that creates a psychological need. The inciting incident causes the protagonist to want something and take steps to get it. The action of the inciting incident reveals the protagonist’s weakness.

List physical, psychological and sociological aspects of your character. Use these aspects to create contradictions through contrasting details.

Mapping the Hero’s Journey With Tarot by Arwen Lynch – The first chapter of the book is about using the court cards to answer some questions about your character. Chapter two explores your character in his/her ordinary world.

Youtube Videos

I made a creating characters collection of some videos I found on youtube

Pixar in a box collection has some videos on character

My Plan for this week

Last week I noticed that listing my plans for the week helped me see clear, actionable goals and get things done. I started reading comps, immersing myself in related, movies and shows, collecting futurist signals specific to my project and more.  This week I hope to create a cast of characters to start getting to know.  Here’s my plan:

Random Number Character Creation Spreadsheet: Once I have created my new sci-fi specific spreadsheet, I will use a random number generator to create characters to populate my future world.

Explore my characters with Tarot: I will use Lynch’s exercises to flesh out my characters further.

Fill in Character sheets in Scrivener including images: From my randomly generated characters, I will select my protagonist, antagonist and other main characters and fill in the rest of their Character sketch sheets. Once I have solidified some ideas about my characters, I’ll head over to my Pinterest board of possible characters and find images of how they look.

Free-write about characters: After I have a fuller picture of who my characters are, I’ll do some timed free-writes. First from my perspective. Then in their own voices.

Interview characters: I will look through my resources and collect questions that I think will help me get to know my characters better, trying to make them as story-specific as I can. Then I will imagine that I am having a conversation with my character, asking them the questions I’ve collected and writing down their answers, noting their physical reactions and body language.

During NaNoWriMo 2017 I wrote a blog post every day. One of the things I included was a section with questions to ask your character. Many of those questions came from the Great Questions List that is part of StoryCorps.org ‘s project to record humanity’s stories.

Physically act out walk, body movements, and voice of main characters: While reading Voice Acting by , I recorded myself reading the script to put yourself into your character. Like a meditation, it guides me into putting myself into my character and becoming them to explore how they sound, how they hold themselves as they speak because that influences how the voice sounds. Yesterday, while I was collecting Youtube videos about character, I found this video with a similar technique. (starting 14:40)

Start thinking about my characters’ actions and reactions in possible story scenarios and writing exercises from the Breakout Novel Workbook.

How do you create and develop your characters?

Do you have specific resources and tools you like to use?

Happy Reading and Writing!

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