Characters, my favorite part of the book…

Characters make the story, at least for me they do.  Everyone comes up with different ways to write them. Sometimes they are like Frankenstein’s monster with their bits and pieces from old friends, a cluster of flaws from people we know to make a neurotic creature, or maybe we borrowed little morsels of cuteness from a few crushes of the past to make our dream love come to life.  No matter how they’re made though they have to start with something, some idea of what’s needed, what makes them tick?  It’s the author’s job to know that and work it all out.

I love dark hair with blue eyes.  I think it’s dreamy.  My husband has near black hair and sky blue eyes.  I love his eye color.  Anyway, I’ve found that I wrote a book with way too many ‘good looking’ people.  My biggest villain, dark hair with blue eyes, my other villain, dark hair with blue eyes, my hero, longer dark hair with blue eyes, one of my main ladies, dark hair with blue eyes.  I’m going to have to give one or two of them brown eyes.

This got me wondering about how everyone else sits down to make their characters.  I feel that this is one of my biggest strong points in a story.  I’m bad at scenery, but great at the ‘people’.  I start with my idea. Then I draw (a poor sketch): One of a close up and one of them standing.  They are either standing next to a ruler or a tree to give me an idea of their height and girth.  My art could be better, but I’m an artist of words, not an artist of pictures.  On the opposite side of the paper I have a character sheet.  For those who are unfamiliar with what that is: it’s a page where info such as age, height, weight, hair color, personality flaws, rich or poor, and so on are written down.  For me the detail all depends on how important the individual is in the story, that’s how I decide how much info they are given.  For important ones I give them four to six pages and both drawings, for less important ones, two pages and one (maybe two) with very sloppy sketches, for a one time encounter just one sheet with the bone basic info.  I keep all of these in a binder just for that book. I save it, and if needed, I rewrite repeat characters from the series, put it in the folder for the next book, and write in the changes.  I use birth year and date, not age.  Ages change even with immortals so dates act best.  Also, I have found that to give them more flaws and personalities I’ll give them a little history, even if it’s not told in the book.  I feel this helps to add depth.  This is also if I ever need a little more of a reference to the individual, it’s there.  One of my characters is gay.  I don’t think it will ever come out but he just is. I need that info when I work with him so he never looks at the ladies.  Two of my characters are 1/2 brothers that are very close and one of them had a mother who was a slave, the other mother was sickly. I need this so I know why and how they both might feel in certain situations.  We never read more than one line about Mary’s sisters, but in my binder their age differences, married family, and such are written down just for reference.

I would love to hear (read) other ideas for characters and if you have any tips for landscape details, besides just visualizing, please, please, PLEASE share.

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8 Responses to Characters, my favorite part of the book…

  1. sonia says:

    I love guys with dark hair and blue eyes! LOL

    I got character profiles with all that info, but I usually have some of the story first. I never draw anything (I can’t draw!) I usually know what my character looks like before hand.

  2. I love the idea of building character profiles. My characters lead me through the story, but they are coy when it comes to revealing themselves. I’m going to start a notebook for my characters. : ) Thanks.

    • sarahwinters says:

      🙂 I’ve heard of authors wanting to bring back a character that they didn’t expect and not remembering much about them, that’s what made me think to do this. And the truth is, it really is fun too!

  3. Alissa says:

    I picked up lots of good character tips this weekend from my co-presenters at the NJSCBWI. Your idea about drawing characters, made me think of this tip I picked up: draw a self portrait of a character as she or he sees themselves, then draw a portrait as one of the other character’s in the book sees them. Interesting. I’m not so good at drawing, but I may have to try this.

    • sarahwinters says:

      What a great tip!!! Thank you so much for sharing it! I only sketch mine as if I’m seeing them through my eyes. This will work great for a vain jerk coming up in book two. Sadly, I’m not good at drawing either, but I try. Whenever I draw my characters I always remind myself that these pictures are only for reference and they are for my eyes only. Thank you, again. 🙂

  4. When I taught Art one of the projects I had was to write and draw a graphic novel. As part of the brainstorming process I passed out a character sketch worksheet (I’m sure I still have it, but it’s probably buried in a box somewhere). It had the usual – hair, eyes, height, etc., but I liked that it went to a deeper level and made you think of things like – family history, scars or defining features and where they might have come from, strengths, weaknesses, motivations, etc. It really helped to flesh out the characters before ever putting pen (or drawing pencil) to paper. 🙂

  5. sarahwinters says:

    Oh wow, I only looked at it in one direction, I never thought of working out a character to help draw them. It makes perfect sense. I know I always want to know ‘who’ I’m working with before I get started, painters and artists of all walks of life must feel that way. You must have had a great time teaching that class, it sounds like a lot of fun. 🙂
    LOL That’s my life, ‘it’s probably buried in a box somewhere’
    Thanks for broadening my horizon! 😀

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