Friday, July 22, 2011

How to write a novel: Characters

I recently started writing a new book.

It's been a while since I started writing something new that wasn't a "sequel" to another book, so I was really excited!!!

Everyone writes books differently. Some plot first, some start with a seed of an idea and just start writing (previously this was ME!) and some do a little of both (THIS is now me.)

So, as I write my new book, I'd thought I'd take you through a little of my process.

The first thing I need are: CHARACTERS.

Questions to answer about our characters:

Who are they?
What do they do for a living?
How old are they?
What do they look like?
Where are their parents, do they have siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles... what does their family life look like?
Why are they in this story?
What is their background?
Do they have weird quirks?

Some of this I don't know yet about my new characters. But I start by asking the question and writing down what I DO know.

Then you work on the GMC (Goal Motivation Conflict) for each main character (and maybe even minor ones too!)

Goal: What do they want in this story?
Motivation: Why do they want it?
Conflict: What is going on that prevents them from getting what they want?

A great resource for finding out more about GMC is Debra Dixon's book, Goal, Motivation, Conflict.

Personally, if I get too detailed at the beginning, I'd get overwhelmed. I start out with a general idea of what my characters what, a reason for them wanting it, and usually there is one big thing that prevents them from having it. However, this needs to get deeper as the story goes, and for me, it usually changes and develops as I write. So start off with something basic.

Picture worth a billion words

When building characters, I also find a picture of them. Usually this is with Google images. Sometimes it's a celebrity, other times it's someones random picture I find that fits my character PERFECTLY. It is SO SO SO nice to have a visual for when I write. No accidentally changing hair color (without a trip to the hairstylist anyway!) The one to the left is the celebrity whose "look" is inspiring the heroine of my newest book!

Discussion: How do YOU start forming new characters? What is your FAVORITE character in a book you recently read, and why? Do you use pictures of real people to help you visualize your characters?


Keli Gwyn said...

I often begin with a picture of the character. If possible I find a vintage photograph that fits my image of the person in my historical romance. If not, I use my imagination. The name comes next, followed by traits, interests, profession, quirks, flaws, etc. Then I move on to GMC and think about what kind of plot points would best challenge and change my characters.

Jeanne Takenaka said...

What a fun post, Krista. Thanks for sharing your questions. For my wip, my heroine "came to me," if you will. I saw her look and learned a little about her. I started asking questions of her to learn about who she was. One question I asked a lot was "Why?" This helped me learn about what made her who she is today, so to speak. :)

My favorite character from a recently read book is Joy Ballard from Dining With Joy, by Rachel Hauck. I loved her depth and humor.

Joanne Sher said...

JUST ordered GMC - have wanted it for a while, and you motivated me! I DEFINITELY need to do some searching for a pic of my MC. I know she's out there!

Silent Pages said...

Sometimes my characters tend to be on the flat side. XD So, this was a helpful post!

A lot of planning for my characters consists mostly of seeing how they interact, and how they'll react to a certain situation. Getting into their mindset... But I still need to work on making my characters pop. XD

I like to draw (it's a hobby) so a lot of times I'll doodle my characters to figure out their look. Sometimes a character grows out of a doodle in the first place. ^^

Unknown said...

I find myself seeing someone and say to myself, that's my character, or how I imagine them to look. That's always fun!!!
I need to try that GMC technique ... I'm a fly by the seat of my pants writer, though I love it:)!

Pepper said...

I just did this while in the hospital with my daughter. I knew I had a book coming up where the main character was a nurse...and I met her. She even let me take a pic of her. She's sooooo sweet looking. But I don't always come about stories or characters this way.

Krista Phillips said...

Keli.. THANKS for a great picture on how you form your characters!!!

Jeanne... Love that "why" question.. it is SO helpful! And I just ordered Rachel's book yesterday, can't wait to read it!!

Joanne... YEAH for ordering GMC!!! Hope it helps!

Silent Pages... yes, it takes a lot of work to make our characters Pop... but you can do it!!! I find that, even if I don't use all the information in the book, just knowing where they came from, planning it out, is helpful because it makes them REAL for me, and if they are real for me... I naturally write them more "real" and unique in my book too!

Cindy, I'm a SOTP writer too! But the GMC is good even if you do it on the fly... Some say each scene should even have a GMC! So even if you are writing as you go, knowing that you have to give a "reason" for something and conflict for that something, and having that in the back of your head, will help as you write!

Pepper... only you:-) Although there are a few nurses I've met now that I think it would be FUN to write a book when them as the "main" character so-to-speak. *grin*

Kelley said...

Having a visual for them is a great idea. I, recently, started thinking that way, but I never printed the pics out for reference, I just used them as a thinking starter point.

Krista Phillips said...

K.D... I don't print them either! I save them to my computer in a file with all my research stuff for the book, so I can pull them up and look at them at any point and time to give me a refresher!