Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Writing Wednesdays - Character Design

Alright, technically this is a Writing Thursday, but we're going to pretend it's a Wednesday because that makes me look much more organised.  I got a little caught up in nerf warfare earlier in the day, but now I am blogging like I am meant to.

So, we've looked so far at getting ideas, planning a story, and programs we can use to help with the writing, but today we're going to look in detail at what is to me the most important part - characters. 

Characters are what populate your story, and bring it to life.  If your characters are terrible, then it doesn't matter how wonderful your plot is, people are going to turn away.  People care about people, and how they are affected by events, rather than the events themselves - and when you're designing characters, this has to be kept in mind.

So what is it for a character to be terrible? I'm sure you can think of characters you haven't liked.  For me, its always characters that have been one dimensional, or boring, or simply unrepeatable.  I'm drawing a distinction here between characters you don't like, and characters you dislike - you can hate a character, with them still being an interesting and well rounded character.  A character you dislike may be a villain, or an antagonist, but they're still interesting people - you want to read  more about them, just to find out what they do and see them get their comeuppance.

Now that you have some idea of what makes a bad character, you can start to think about how to make a character that isn't bad.  We don't need to list every single detail about their backstory and life, if they have allergies, their school report grades - but it's a good idea if they're alive enough to you that you have some idea of the answers to these questions for them.  If you don't know more details about a character than you're putting on the page, I'd say you probably need to develop them more.

One of the best pieces of advice I've seen is someone saying that rather than describing the color of a character's eyes, you should instead describe what they are like - are they sunken, haunted, bright, sparkling? Are they surrounded by makeup? Do they wear glasses, or is it contacts for them because their glasses got broken by a bully when they were younger and they can't face wearing them any more... See what I mean? Any of this information tells you a lot more about the person you are creating to write with than the color of their eyes.

When I start with my character, I tend to have a sentence or so in mind.  If you can't think of a sentence, how about looking at and then seeing if something there inspires you.  Just as a random selection, I got "he's an Albino whore on the wrong side of the law".

I love drawing, and I will often sketch out a quick idea of what I think a character looks like - probably including notes around it for things that the drawing isn't to capture.  I also try and think of a name early on, because it helps to get it out of the way - even if it's just a placeholder.  For my whore, I'll call him Argen, from Argent, the heraldic word for white.

Now, we have Argen - and as he's an albino I know he has white hair, red eyes, and translucent skin - and he's probably in a fantasy-based world.  The fact he's on the wrong side of the law implies that he might have been having a harsh life, and therefore I see him being short and underweight - his cheeks hollow, with long eyelashes and pouty lips. 

Next, I need to consider what Argen is like as a person - what he likes and dislikes, what he does in his free time, how intelligent he is, habits, nervous tics, relationship with family, beliefs, education - what was his childhood like? Is he in a relationship? What are his dreams, his hopes, his fears? What is his most precious memory, and his deepest secret? What would he wear?  How does he talk - and how does this vary when he's talking to different people?  What are his flaws, and his greatest points, and who inspires him?

Once I've answered all of these questions, I have a character who is ready to take his place in the world. 

To show the process in practice, I'm going to write a description of Argen, which I will post in the next few days.

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