Another slow news day in Jackie land. To NTAI, I’m concentrating on thinking about the iPad which is finally being released in NZ on Friday. And yes, I’m going to get one. I’m such a gadget girl, I can’t help myself. iPad wins over shoes any day in my book.
Anyway, on the writing front, after a great virtual coversation with the talented Lacey, I got to thinking about characters and character sheets. Now, the ed I’m working with sent me quite a good one that provided me with a great starting point. And not just favourite foods and things but questions like; Why is the hero the best person for the heroine? Why is he the worst? What’s good about him? What’s bad? What does the heroine like about him? What doesn’t she like? etc etc. All good material. But there can be a problem with character sheets in that if you’re not careful, you’ll end up with a character who is just a bunch of traits, not an actual person.
For example, you might have given your heroine a shy trait but decided she’s also going to be an actor. Now this may be what you’d plotted out for your story, but would a shy person really choose acting as a profession? And here’s where you have to think deeper – perhaps they would, perhaps she’s very shy and by choosing acting, she’s trying to prove something to herself. What is she trying to prove? Who is she trying to prove it to? How does her shyness impact on the story? In other words, is it part of her character or have you given her that trait because it makes a scene work better?
In essence, every trait you give them is a building block constructing the kind of person they are. And all the building blocks work together, you can’t treat them in isolation. I’ve done the old ‘quick, my heroine needs to be stroppy in this scene’ trick where I suddenly give my previously quiet, shy heroine a ‘take no crap’ trait. And then find that to get her to act like this, I have to add a whole lot of things in order to get the desired response from her. Can you say ‘making my characters move to fit the plot’? 🙂 This is where consistency comes into it because you can’t just add a character trait for one scene and then never have it appear again. For the shy heroine, you have to ask yourself is shyness part of who she is? Is it central to the story? Is it part of what she needs to change about herself? Is it really necessary for her to be shy?
I think that while character sheets are a good place to start, there comes a time when you need to look at all the traits, likes/dislikes, family background etc, and figure how they all work together in order to make this person come alive. Have you added things just for the sake of it? How will an impatient heroine act? Does this affect your story? How has her impatience affected her life? Is her impatience a flaw that may cost her the hero? Does she overcome it or learn to deal with it? Or have you just added it so she catches the bus an hour earlier and so meets the hero?
Anyway, the character sheets have been great in that they get me thinking about the character before I start writing and now I’m much better at constructing an actual person with a background instead of the cardboard cutouts I used write. But now I don’t use them so much as writing a brief bio that I add to as I get to know the character better. Anyone else find them useful?
BTW: If you’re wanting more insight into conflict, Kate Walker is doing a great Q&A on her blog.