Friday, May 19, 2006

Character v characterization

Or what are the damned questionaires for?

I am going to admit it. Put my hand up and say. I love character questionaires, I really mean to use them but somehow I never quite get around to filling them out properly.Don't get me wrong by this time in writing a book, I can probably answer most of the questions on the questionaires about my main characters. With a little thought.

This was why when reading Story, it was such a great pleasure to read the section on character v characterization. In his viewpoint, the spuerficialities don't matter a great deal, but the deep character -- what is this person really about deep down does. Yes, that was it. It suddenly all made perfect sense. There is a distinct difference between characterization (the colour of hair, eyes, clothes they wear) and the type of person they are. Simply know your heroine is a blonde with grey eyes and a penchant for long pink fingernails doesn't really tell you much about how she will react when faced with the biggest crisis of her life. You need to know more.

Now I know character questionaires (and Kate Walker's ones in the 12 point guide to Romance are brilliant) are means to an end. They are a way to discover the ins and outs of your character so you can uncover the deep character. What will your character do when faced with an emergency? Is she going to be the one holding the victim's hand? Calling the emergencies services? Organising the rescue? Or doing the rescuing? Or needing to be rescued herself? Or would she walk on by? Would your character rush into a burning building to save a kitten? How are they going to react under stress? And how are you going to force them to react? What ultimately is the sort of person you are dealing with?

But often times, when I am writing, the first thing that comes to me is the sort of person I am dealing with. It is one of the reasons I like building up from ennegrams. I like to know about the person deep down inside first. And then deciding what I need to know about the surface stuff.

But no matter how anyone does it, ultimately there comes a point when you have to know the characters so well, you could fill out on those character sheets in under five minutes flat..if you only took the time.

And next time I will, it will make filling out the art sheet so much easier.


Amanda Ashby said...

I love McKee's Story. For some reason I let it sit on my shelf for four years before opening it, but I'm sort of pleased I waited because it actually gave me a chance of understanding it!

And I'm with you on characters. I always know how they will react in a situation but half the time I don't pay any attention to what they look like. Mind you, since I normally leave the house without even brushing my hair, let alone looking in the mirror, it's hardly suprising!

Anne McAllister said...

The trouble with questionaires for me is that by the time I know the characters well enough to know all the answers to them, I've written the book. Beforehand, when I'm getting to know them, it's like trying to fill out forms about people I've just met. One of the joys of linked books is being able to get a handle on characters before they take center stage in their own book. Just have to be sure they don't steal the thunder of the people whose book it really is!

Anonymous said...

I learn the answers through the writing. I can't seem to plan it out. It never really happens that way...

Donna Alward said...

I love Kate Walker's characterization sheets. They are like a cheat list for getting to know the characters. I know the basics- but then some of the questions really tell me what kind of person this character is. I'm not a hard and fast plotter, but I find I MUST know my characters first otherwise I end up going and backtracking through the story once I get a clue! I think of it as this...could you write a touching story about a stranger, or about someone you know intimately? That doesn't mean you don't discover things along the way, but personally I need a firm grip on my characters, in order to figure out the motivations.

Just my 2 cents!

Gabriele Campbell said...

I do freewriting sessions to get a grip on my characters. Just let them tell their (back)story without the constraints of making it coherent.

And I use reference sheets to make sure they don't change eye colour mid-novel or get different tattoos (my Selgovae have ritual ones).