I hate character lists. I particularly hate the identikit character lists that I find in writing books. I know it is sacrilege to say it but I do. And I don't actually think they help me write the story. In some ways they hem me in. They force me to make decisions BEFORE I am ready to and decisions about things I am not interested in or my characters might not be interested in. Things that I might feel compelled to work in. Equally if I don't know the characters well enough I might make hasty decisions which make me freeze later. The needs of the story and the characters interacting with each other come before the needs of The List.
I do know for other people that they work well for. That is their process and I salute them.
They just don't work for me. Neither do I do collages. My mind works differently and the pictures are in my head. And this possibly makes me a Bad Writer.
Or maybe it just makes me different. Different is good. I can live with different.
I don't need to know the same info about every character every time. Each character is different. And some of my characters hate, loathe and distest admin. Some of them would happily set fire to all bureaucracy.
I worry that filling in these sheets can make it seem like I have told the story or that my words harden like concrete or rather my decisions harden like concrete and I have to twist the story to a point of implausibility when the simplest thing would be to change the back story. This is borne out in my own research of trial and error.
This however does not mean that I don't know things about my characters. I can and have written reams of paper about their back story. And sometimes that back story has to change. Sometimes I add Too Much baggage and sometimes too little. Sometimes what I thought was important becomes less so.
But I do know. And I do like the freedom to feel I can change things.
If my characters are never going to eat ice cream, is it important that I fill that out or that I think about the sort of shampoo they might use before thinking about their quality of laughter? Does the exact place where they were born matter? Or is it more their upbringing? Parental neglect comes in all shapes and sizes and is not necessarily evident at the cradle stage. In other words, my mind works differently. And that is fine.
At the end of the day, it is MY story and I need to be able to write and give it the depth of characterisation that it needs. One size doesn't fit all and one list or series of lists or a series of interview questions doesn't fit all either. I freeze. It fills too much like I have been here before rather than concentrating on the why I am writing the story. So I rely on scribbled notes and a lot of thinking. I like to feel that I know the characters and they are friends. The first and most important thing for me is to love my characters, including all their faults, flaws and foibles.
Protagonists for me are often not 3-d on the first draft. It takes time to fill in the broad outline and certain symbols and important details only emerge at the end. What is important is that by the time the READER reads it, that fine shading of detail that makes the character come alive is on the page and not in my head.
Earlier this week, my editor who is indeed lovely asked for character lists for my hero and heroine. We had a discussion as I refuse to fill them out before I finish the story. What she was really asking for was a detailed background note on the characters and to include the emotional turning points in the synopsis. I can do a detailed background note. I did have scraps written down and a lot in my head. As long as it was in no particular order, I was fine and I did learn things about my characters. But it was putting things done in an order and an form to suit me rather than to suit someone else's process. Starting with a few scribbled notes, I produced a 2500 word background note that is really helping me write this thing and that showed my editor I do know where I am going. The note took me several hours to write as it was mainly pulling bits of the background together and my husband decided to light a bonfire and needed some assistance in the middle of the thing. I stomped around and went back and wrote. Then sent it.
It could have been expanded further if needs be. She said it was fine as it was as it gave her the info to know that the conflict was sustainable. It is up to me to write the thing.
I can do detailed background notes, just don't ask me to do character lists. I prefer to write stories about my characters and stories about their backgrounds. It works for me.
Know your process and don't sweat the small stuff.
Just because other authors do it one way, it doesn't mean it is the right way for you.
Try things, see if they work as you will know straight away.
Allow your process to evolve.
There is nothing wrong with writing a discovery draft (or two).