Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Growing characters

One of the most enjoyable parts of writing, for me, is developing characters. I love the process of thinking about, mulling over, characters, and developing them over time.

My stories are often born as the result of a dream. I dream a lot, and most of it is just crazy, jumbled up stuff (if anyone tried to analyse my dreams, I'd probably be locked up). But every now and then, I have a clear, short dream in which an incident takes place, and I get a *very* powerful sense of emotion from at least one of the characters - emotion that is still with me when I wake up.

So, often the character comes from the emotion. Who is the character? How did they get in that situation? Why did they feel that emotion? How are they going to respond to it? A number of my stories have begun in just this way - that powerful, instigating incident has become the prologue, or the opening of the first chapter.

Other characters grow a little differently, but I do seem to get some sense of who they are from the moment I start writing them, even if I don't know much about them then.

After I've done a little writing, playing around with scenes, maybe drafting a first chapter, I then usually start a somewhat informal character sheet. The character sheet I use is adapted from several that I found on the web, but I use it as a prompt for thinking, rather than as a form that has to have every space filled in. Sometimes things just simply aren't relevant to the story or to the character. But pondering the various things on the list does help me to flesh out and understand the character better - even if some things may not appear in the final story.

For example, one of the items on the sheet is 'most treasured possession.' When I was pondering this in relation to my character Gil Gillespie, I realised that if you asked him what his most treasured possession is, he'd scowl and say he doesn't have emotional attachments to things - or people. But I know that he did most of the renovations of his pub himself, that he has some woodworking tools, and that he finds it strangely peaceful, an oasis in a busy, demanding life, when he's working timber with his hands. So, thinking about just that one point on the list gave me a whole lot more to Gil. And, although he still won't get emotionally attached to things, he's going to fight a losing battle in trying not to become emotionally attached to people ;-)

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