Techniques Thursday

Each Techniques Thursday I'll discuss a new technique to help you build your Writing Toolbox (and hopefully cut down on the need for a thousand notebooks!)

I was asked the other day how I came up with my characters which is one of those expansive questions that could never have an end. It reminds me of when Stephen King is asked how he gets his ideas and he replies that they come from a used idea factory. Maybe there's a used character factory writers can pick and choose from, just decide what ingredients you want for your character and alley-oop there they are fully formed. 

I'll be honest though, I don't come up with my characters. They just exist in my head fully formed and come out when they feel like it. There's nothing I can do to force them out and they work completley at their own will, a little like the post I shared a while ago about the Bar In My Head. Before it starts sounding all mystical or like I could do with taking a lie down, it's just the way I've always written. I don't use character development sheets when I'm creating a character because I've never needed to actually 'create' one. 

When I started planning ARCHANGEL ONE I wanted to be the most prepared writer ever so I bought character development worksheets and novel planning templates from Etsy. I sat down and tried to pen out how Maeve, Taren, Gabriel, Logan and company were going to be. I'd establish their characters and then the rest would come easy, right?

The worksheets asked me what their internal and external motivators were, what they feared, where they'd grown up and what their five year plan was. It was like having an intrusive conversation with a friend for me. Maeve turned up fully formed, her words already appearing on the page. I knew that she'd already faced the thing that she feared the most, I knew that she'd grown up with a loving family that had now gone in the blink of an eye. I knew she was motivated to find Taren but actually writing those things on the paper was odd. I could see her sitting in my mind, tapping her boot and wondering aloud when I'd be finished interrogating her. She isn't really the kind to talk about her feelings (unless it's to display anger!) The worksheet got completed but I hardly ever refer back to it except to check what height I'd made her. 

I do use - and recommend - character profile sheets though for when you know your character to help you keep track of their characteristics, especially if you're like me and forget who has what eye color. I'm in the process of creating some of these which I hope to have for sale in an Etsy store coming soon!  

If character development sheets work for you, keep at them! They help us create characters that are three dimensional and keep us accountable. If you're like me and these characters turn up fully formed demanding to be written into something, I have a few techniques to help make sure that they're the three dimensional kind you want them to be.

1. Take the free 16 Personality Types test for your character.
Maeve Delta is an easy character for me to write. She tends to react to things similiar to the way I would and she can hold a grudge like no-ones business. She loves the men in her life but she's able to hold her own and I'm very conscious of creating a strong heroine. I took the personality test for her and found out that she's the INTJ Advocate. When I took the test for myself, I got the same result which explains why she's easier for me to write than say Ronnie Hall from my debut book HUMAN NATURE. Ronnie is an out and out sociopath and while she's interesting to write, I'm the first person to admit she's a stone cold son of a gun when she wants to be.

I just took the personality test for Taren Alpha while writing this and the results say he's an Architect, which fits with his backstory and whats to come in the rest of the Black Guardian series. For example, the results say people like this are ambitious but like their privacy. Taren's ambition has led him to be Ministry Commander but no-one knows about Maeve, in fact, no-one knows very much at all about his private life. He has the right attitude to meet his goals, is logical and keeps his principles first and foremost - whether they're right or wrong principles.

Architects remain free from the expectations of others. 

This quote from his personality test results helped me understand him better. Maeve is passionate about the people she loves and cares about their expectations. She cares about being a good advocate for rebelling against Galactic and being a good friend. Taren on the other hand couldn't give a toss about the expectations of others. As a Ministry Commander he has certain expectations placed on him from above and around him. He meets his goals that he sets and could care less what the High Council think of him. The only person he'd accept any expectations from is Maeve and even then he has a strong enough personality to tell her when he doesn't agree with something. The results finish by saying Architects travel alone, which is exactly the way Taren has spent his last five years.

2. Give them a face claim. 
I love messing around with Pinterest, Photowonder and Photogrid to create images of my characters. Pinterest is great for looking up what you want your character to look like. You can go as broad as "Blonde females" or "Muscled, dark haired." If you find one of the latter send them my way, thanks! You can narrow it down further or you can pick a celebrity or similar that might fit the image you have in your head. For me, Maeve has always been a cross between Marina Diamandis and Paige from WWE. Taren is a cross between Bill Skaarsgard and Taron Egerton (although he's named after the Doctor Who character Taren Capel!)

Giving your character a face claim makes it easier to imagine how they might react physically. You can figure out if they'd lean against a wall when someone else is talking or if they'd stand ramrod straight. For example, Logan is the kind of guy who would lean against a wall, preferably in a corner whereas Taren would fall into a military stance automatically. I've found that working out a face claim helps me make them move more authentically.

Don't be afraid starting out either. Maybe you'll try to plan but like me realize that they will tell you what they are and what they want to do rather than the other way around. Maybe you'll discover that worksheets are the most amazing thing since Rocketman. The personality tests might work, face claims might work or neither might. Each of us are different as writers and because of this we each bring something unique to the world of storytelling.

You just have to find what works for you

Read as many techniques as you can and play around with the ones you like the sound of. You'll end up with a toolbox you can open whenever you need to!

Good luck to all my Nanowrimo buddies <3