Monday, June 11, 2012

Historical Record

Roll the dice and build a character to fit your world.
Photo found here.
Last week I ran across a scrap of paper that I had a note on about how to build a character with six bits of information: 
  1. Build/Body Type/Physical trait
  2. Style  of dress
  3. Sex/Hair/Eye color
  4. Name/Age
  5. Emotional makeup/traits
  6. Occupation
The theory I worked under when using this set of bits is that lots of things can be inferred from lots of things like what the character does, their name and age and how they dress. I came to this after running around and looking for something that would allow me to work on telling the initial story. The Zero Draft. I'll use this list to jump start the story and give me a simple sentence that can introduce the character quickly. For instance:

Nancy is a tall, cheerful, 38 year-old librarian.

Got an image there, don't you? I hope so. I suspect that for everyone person who reads that description will see a slightly different person based on skin color or ethnicity. I hope for that more than anything. Could I give you more in that description? Sure. But I want you to put your own ideas onto my story. I want you to be able to immerse yourself in the world so that when I drop a piece of information in you can believe it.

I don't tell you what she looks like, I'm telling you who she is. I use this list to build my main characters and the I discover a little at a time more about those six things and then even more about the person I'm writing. It's easy to forget that characters aren't people. That's why with main characters I look more at number 5 than anything else. Within that emotional makeup is why the character is the way he is.

The best way to communicate that to a reader is to have one thing in the character's past that has caused them pain. That is why she acts the way she does, why he behaved that way in that situation. Will the reader ever know it? Probably. Sometimes it'll be inferred, sometimes it'll be spelled out. That depends on the character.

So this came up because I didn't do any kind of prep on a background character in the novel. I just sort of wrote this character in at the beginning and didn't know until later how important that role would be. I need more than just a 'tall, cheerful librarian'. So I have to go back and build a bit of a record for this character and I'll start with that list up above.

Wish me luck.

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