A Drift of Quills: Care and Feeding of Fictional Characters

A Drift of Quills: Care and Feeding of Fictional Characters

Hello, and welcome back to A Drift of Quills! 2017 is already leaping out of the gate, but not to fear! We have our quills sharpened and our writing hats firmly settled! This month we are answering the following questions:

Do you plan characters in advance or in the moment, and how do you keep track of them?

A Drift of Quills: Writerly thoughts by writerly folks

For me, the answers are… Yes. And it depends! (Oops, my questionable sense of humor is showing!)

I tend to flesh out a few key characters briefly, but they grow from that organically. Every now and then random characters stroll into the story uninvited. I am not a fan of those “Get to Know Your Character” worksheets with a bazillion trivial questions, but I occasionally find them helpful when a necessary character refuses to take shape. What is this “shape”?

Stories are about change. When it comes to characters, I have to figure out who is facing change, what the change is, and how it happens.

I do not have a shortage of inspiration. There are just so many interesting real people and characters from stories and movies from which I can pick little details! For example, I’ve been watching the new NBC show, Emerald City. In it, Dorothy is taken by Ojo, a member of the Munja’kin tribe. He plans to trade her to the Witch of the West to get his wife out of a witchy prison.

What if Faux-jo really did want to (or have to) help Re-Do-rothy achieve her goal, but circumstances demand he has to help someone else first (or instead)? What if it wasn’t his wife, but his daughter that needed saving, and the wife is dead? What if Faux-jo actually became Re-Do-rothy’s love interest? And… what if Faux-jo had Roan/Lucas’s military training and he feels a strong loyalty to his about-to-be-wasted country?

I have the “who.” The change could be a betrayal of loyalty. And I have two options for “how.”

Collection of character development sheetsI am off and running. (The notes about this possible story are tucked into a handy Scrivener file. I have even turned it on its head and considered a gender reversal. How can I fit this into a Crow story?)

From there we segue into keeping track of characters.

I do.

In detail.

Each major character gets his or her own document. Scrivener is the bee’s knees for the task. I start with a folder for the character, then I have a character sheet with a description that covers age, personality, background, a brief timeline and, if there’s magic, a description of what he or she can do.

I have a document within the folder for important tidbits I copy and paste right out of the story—important dialogue, or clothes, or expressions.

And then I have more documents—documents about things familiar or important to the character. Frequently used phrases or exclamations. A description and picture of a weapon he uses. Scars and where/when he got them. Who and when he killed people. Pictures of characters that might play him (or her, yes, yes) in a movie. Anything and everything pertinent to the character goes in that folder.

And then I have a Character List. Alphabetical and color coded. This is for the incidental characters and describes their relationship to the main character(s), race, gender, occupation, brief physical description if it’s warranted, and whatever details I need to remember. What are the color codes for? Black for the protagonist’s people, blue for the bad guys, gray for those that have died in the course of events. Muahahaa.

So that’s how *I* tackle — er, create and organize — my characters. Let’s see what my buddies Patricia and Parker have to say…!

P.S. BROADDUS

“P.S.Author of A Hero’s Curse (The Unseen Chronicles Book 1)
Parker’s website

Characters are great fun. Don’t we all have our favorites? Maybe we love their wit, or clueless misadventures—I’m looking at you Bertie Wooster. Sometimes it’s a character we relate to: I’m fond of Monk, the tightly wound, obsessive-compulsive detective.

Many of my stories are character driven—which means I’m constantly surrounded by… you guessed, it… characters.

So the question comes up regarding how these personalities come to life. Do I plan them in advance? Do they spring into being in the moment? How do you keep track of them?

Take Essie Brightsday, a young blind girl and the protagonist of A Hero’s Curse. How did she get here? (I want to know—do you? Click here to find out!)

PATRICIA REDING

Patricia RedingAuthor of Oathtaker and Select
Patricia’s website

Oh, the fun of writing! When it comes to character creation: there are no rules! Sometimes, a character comes to mind, nearly fully formed. This might happen in particular, for those key parties who engage in the most important activities in a story. But even then, they can surprise me. The character may turn out to be an unexpected whiner, or to have an unusual sense of humor, or to manage success in the face of unexpected odds. Those things tend to happen quite by chance! For example, I have one minor character in my first story who I realized near the end, almost never said anything, although he was present for a goodly portion of the tale. Rather than go back and put words in his mouth, I… (Click here to see how Patricia dealt with this reserved character)

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Are you a writer? How do YOU create and keep track of characters?
Are you a reader? Who is one of your very favorite fantasy fiction characters?

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