Thursday, November 12, 2009

Building Character

So, I'm starting a new MS and of course, this means I'm creating a new set of characters. Ideas always come to me a little bit differently, sometimes the characters come first, sometimes a scenario comes first. When the scenario comes first I tend to think 'well, okay...what characters would have the most conflict with this!'

In this instance, the plot came before the characters. I knew I needed a prince, and I knew I needed a commoner. Beyond that, I had nothing in mind. So I had some free rein in creating the people that wanted to inhabit my new little world.

First order of business was to figure out who the hero was. He had to be commanding, of course, and sexy, and powerful. He's a prince after all. And as I'm partial to dark haired, dark skinned men, he was lucky enough to be blessed with hose attributes. But that isn't who he is. So I had to dig deeper and figure out what his internal conflict was. What would hold this man, with wealth, power, everything he could want at his fingertips, back from falling straight into love with the heroine?

So as the picture of my hero began to form, the heroine started taking shape. I knew the hero was going to be all about duty and honor, a very straight laced, traditional kind of guy. And I knew that with that, I wanted a woman who didn't back down from a challenge, who had wit to spare and who knew how to hold her own. Her personality was formed as a foil to his, so that she was someone who would both compliment and challenge the hero that I had created. Even her looks were designed to be in opposition to something: the woman my hero is *gasp* engaged to.

Then I started going deeper into her, figuring out where she came from, and what things are hang-ups for her, what sorts of things would bother her and which things would roll off her back, and ultimately, what would be the breaking point for her in a relationship.

From the character histories that I created came all kinds of things about them, the way they move, the way they talk and the way they react in certain situations.

Caitlin, my heroine, for example, is from the Midwest and has a much more casual speech pattern than Renzo, the hero, who speaks English as a second language and grew up in a much more formal environment.

Character building, for me, is never the same thing twice. With my last MS I created two people with a fairly complete history and then though: What would be about the most difficult situation for them to deal with? Then I threw it at them. As far as internal conflict went, this made writing that MS pretty straightforward.

How do you do it? How do you build characters and bring them to life? What comes first, the characters or the plot?


  1. Thanks for sharing your process, Maisey! I love reading how other writers write their ms.

    The characters and a situation usually come into my head first, then I have to figure out who they are and what their conflicts are. It's not easy at all...I'm hoping that the more I write, the easier this process may get.

  2. Thank you for stopping by, Angie, and for sharing your own process!

    For me it's harder or easier depending on the MS. Some of it all comes together really fast, and sometimes I'm pulling info out of the characters like it's some kind of crazy FBI interrogation!

  3. Well, for me, I usually have a situation first. Then the characters. But lately this has been a problem since finding a conflict for the situation is tricky. So these days I'm thinking about my conflict first, which is a LOT easier! Once I've figured out the conflict, then I tend to find out about the characters as I write. Kind of like getting to know someone new, they reveal parts of their history to me the more I write about them.

    Sounds weird I know but I very rarely know all about my characters before I start writing. For example, the heroine of my current wip is not a grudge holder. She gets all fired up quickly but then her anger blows out quickly too. Didn't know this when I started writing her, I just kind of discovered it!

  4. Interesting post again, Maisey!

    I never start with plot, always internal conflict. I nail down the internal conflict keeping the H/H apart into a single sentence (or at most two). Then I build their character and list of conflict traits (three or so for each). From that, I develop the external conflict/turning points of the plot that will do the most damage to my characters - always with their internal conflict in mind.

    Now, I still discover a lot about them as I go, but after five years of writing, I've learned if I don't start with that core internal conflict and work my way out, then I started tossing in extra garbage as I go to keep them apart. But it's better to dig deep and unravel the layers of that single conflict than to cast your net wide and drag in everything, including the kitchen sink from their past, to try to keep the story going.

    I've read many authors who say they sit down and just write, but I'm nowhere near talented enough to pull a cohesive story together writing on the fly . . . God knows I wish I was.


  5. Wow, you're really making me think this morning...I ususally get a kernel of an idea and the girls in the basement take it from there. I'll get enough fragments of plot and theme and character that I'm able to piece together the rest. Of course, that works because I'm such a pantster and so much comes back around in the revisions--that's where I see what I have to work with (and how I surprised myself!)

  6. Isn't it great how different everyone does this? So interesting! Yay!

    Jackie, not weird at all. I've had that experience a few time where the H or h had some kind of trait I didn't know about, then it just kind of spilled out!

    Amy, I envy your process. That, to me, seems like the best way to go. Because IC is so important and can be so tricky. I do things in all different orders. If you haven't all figured it out yet, my process is a strange and shifting thing. :-)

    Pamela, I know what you mean too. I've done some MSs that were VERY pantsed. And it can be fun to see what comes out.


  7. Hi Maisey, i'm a new follower of yours and i think your process is very interesting. So far my process has come out of characters in situations first, then their conflict has developed from there. Often then i get a real feel for the characters as i start to write their situation and the internal conflict clashes with their personalities. I like to know where the story is going before i start, so in that way i'm a plotter but it can and does change as the story goes along.

  8. Kerrin,

    So nice to have you! I consider myself something of an informal plotter...nothing is set in stone.

    Thanks for sharing!