Character Profiles

Specifics about craft, talent, technique, etc.
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Character Profiles

Postby kentagions » Sat Jun 27, 2015 6:58 am

I just finished a brief course in humor writing at The Loft in Minneapolis, taught by Tiffany Hanssen. She stressed knowing about the characters who populate humorous sketches and stories. Character development is important to speculative fiction, too. I will do a page or two on my primary characters and a paragraph on the minor ones. Tiffany, however, says that the pros in humor will complete ten pages or more on their primaries and a page or two on their secondary characters.
They write these monster volumes of material on back story, job, emotional triggers, likes, dislikes, wardrobe, design and decoration preferences, props that they regularly use, stereotypes, facial expressions...getting a bit carried away. But that's the point, they get carried away with creating complete characters because they know that somewhere hiding in the bushes of that character are the seeds of humor that they can plant and grow. Remember that this is done for every character in something as short as a two minute sketch. They want to know it all.

All of this for humor, thought I? I write big important stuff! I deal with world changing ideas! And I have to create real, believable characters who pull readers into the story, immerse them in my created world. I knew that I needed to know as much about my characters as I could, but I have often stopped at knowing a character's physical or emotional limits, and don't care whether they cheat at poker (just because there's no poker game in the story). The reader doesn't need to know everything, but the writer does. A little nugget of knowledge, though, might inform the reader more fully about a character, and do it with an economy of words.
So, I was humbled. Now I will free associate until I know my characters completely. I will list and I will categorize and I will delve until there is no heart spring unwound and no zit unpopped. Eeeww. Just...just know your characters.

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Re: Character Profiles

Postby amoskalik » Sat Jun 27, 2015 8:51 am

Thank you for this. In my (limited) experience, humor is the hardest to write, so it makes sense that it takes greater effort up front to pull it off.
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Re: Character Profiles

Postby LDWriter2 » Sun Jun 28, 2015 3:53 pm

There are pro writers who do make out whole profiles for their characters. I don't but have considered it to keep each character straight in my mind and so I don't change them part way through. For my novels anyway.

Not sure if it was Dave or Dean Wesley Smith or both since they do agree on certain points, that every character needs a background. It makes them real even if you don't describe their whole background to the reader. The background effects the character just like real life. And that you need to keep each character the same throughout the story unless there is a stated-shown reason for a drastic change.

The main character in "Above My ay GradeX2" has a specific background that made her what she is at the beginning of the novel. I tried, as I have seen my two favorite writers do, to dribble out that background throughout the first sections of the novel. Not so much in the conclusion though. My first draft had too much of that background in the first chapter. I was advised to cut it down. That is when I thought about how the two writers I referenced did it.

Stories have less time to show the background but at the same time you need one so you know how your characters react to situations. You might explain-show certain parts of what made them them but as I said a short story is too short for a complete life study.

I don't know how much of this relates to what you wanted but it is what came to mind.
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Re: Character Profiles

Postby kentagions » Sun Jun 28, 2015 8:32 pm

@amoskalik - You're welcome.

@LDWriter2 - Happy to have the contribution. wotf008

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Re: Character Profiles

Postby liz » Sun Jun 28, 2015 11:43 pm

I find that fleshing out my characters' backstories doesn't just help me write more believable characters but inspires all kinds of tweaks and ideas for enhancing my plot--after all, plotting is basically a big choose-your-own adventure process, and the deeper you've gotten with your characters the more interesting and specific their choices can be.

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Re: Character Profiles

Postby Elliot Andrews » Sat Sep 12, 2015 9:53 am

I'm turning into a big fan or writing out character profiles. Several times I've worked on a story only to stall halfway through because something is missing. More often than not, going back and figuring out who my characters are fixes the problem. It prevents me from just smashing them into the plot and hoping for the best.

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Re: Character Profiles

Postby kentagions » Tue Sep 22, 2015 8:11 am

I remember reading Tolstoy's Anna Karenina and noting how many character descriptions included the shape of their teeth. I like describing eyes as a way to characterize in more prosaic terms. In fantasy, grey eye color is often a tip-off to magical powers.

Are there other physical features that help characterizations? Can consistent descriptions reinforce a POV character's emotional qualities (i.e., sees feet, knees and floors if upset or subservient, never meeting faces or eyes)?

Economy of description is my intention. If, in one descriptive sentence, I can tell the story of a secondary character through clever depiction of their features, I'll take that over a paragraph of detail.

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Re: Character Profiles

Postby orbivillein » Wed Sep 23, 2015 6:42 am

Physical character descriptions are like any descriptive feature -- fraught with potential and risk. If a physical description propels character, emotion, event, setting, and plot movement, readers will read. If not, they generally won't. "Gray eyes" for example, without some kind of relevance to metaphysical or other aptitude and related to intense story movement is probably flat. Idiosyncracies hold reader attention if they are familiar and exotic -- familiar, not only relatable, also surprisingly exotic.

Gray, for example, is many shades; black and white, too, are shades of gray if observable as close enough though not the exact and unattainable pure shades, and an infinite potential spectrum between, including color tints, like hazel gray. How artfully the shade is described and such that the description matters to story movement makes all the difference. Such features also work for readers generally if they have a backstory and the backstory is timely given as needed when the backstory matters to story movement and most artful when subject to change. The tint of gray, for example, could lighten or darken depending on circumstances. A newly emerged gray-eyed magician could have gray eyes of a moon dark night. An ancient gray-eyed magician could have light gray eyes of a twilight dawn or dusk -- each a relation of a transitional day time and possibly apt foreshadowing too.

Secondary or auxiliary or extras characters need only a tidbit of description and backstory here and there, minor emphasis, though they too benefit from relevance and story movement and idiosyncracy. A French waiter who doesn't sneer at Brits, is actually an anglophone, contravenes stereotypes. Though that is unsupported by itself. If the waiter is a royalist and adores monarchy because he secretly believes he's a descendant of a royal family, that could support the idiosyncracy. Larger considerations are whether the anglophony matters to story movement and whether matters to whoever observes and comments about the waiter's surprise oddity.

Like the waiter wears a tiara at work, or a dated medallion, ribbon, insignia, or badge. Who observes such peculiarity might think through remark the waiter draws a lot of contempt from his peers and that the waiter is an idiot, would rather be waited on by the pretty and empty-headed, petite and mysterious black-haired bar maid of a Portugese persuasion, displaced from her native land by terrorist tourism and working to get to Hollywood, exhibited by her wearing an LA Lakers jersey in the international sports-oriented café. The waiter could wear a London polo club jersey. By personal description of and commentary about the servers' apparel, the characters and the setting and story movement develop.

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