Monday, September 13, 2010

Character Detailing

As I have matured as a writer, I have found myself forming the habit of making very detailed notes about my characters. While I will often leave the general plot points flow as they will in the rough draft, it has become a habit to try to flesh out my characters as much as possible.

There are several reasons for this. The primary one is that I am building a world that is shared among several novels. By doing this I build a familiarity with the world that allows me to write new stories in the same general locations. By sharing locations I give myself the opportunity to decide if I want a light story or an epic story and have all of the materials I need to just sit down and write at leisure.
One thing I have noticed is that this process is not an easy one. I am going to share with you some character detailing from one of my books. I will also explain why I feel this information is useful for me.

There is no right or wrong about detailing your characters. This is not a post to tell you how to do things. However, if you are interested in creating a thorough plot and a world of your own, this may be of use to you.

Hair: Blond
Eyes: Blue
Height: 5'2"
Weight: 135
Real Name: ***plot note

History: ***plot note – Heritage details


1602, Age 10: ***plot note
1602, Age 10: ***plot note
1604, Age 12: ***plot note
1608, Age 16: ***plot note
1608. Age 16: ***plot note
1608, Age 16: ***plot note.
1609, Age 17: ***plot note.
1610, Age 18: ***plot note
1610, Age 18: ***plot note
1615, age 23: Married
1619, Age 27: First Born
1621, Age 29: Second Born
1626, Age 34: ***plot note
1637, Age 45: Third Born
1637, Age 45: Death of Wife
1638, Age 46: Death

The first section of my character notes I dedicate to physical statistics. These are stats that I use frequently. Someone of 5’2” that is male I would describe as short. 5’5” would be of average height; over 5’9” would be tall. I view the average female between 5’3”-5’5”.

Next, I have their real name. In the writing program I use, the main panel has me put their first name, last name, date of birth, date of death and occupation. Unfortunately, I have to follow the ‘real world’ calendar on dates. I randomly selected the 1500-1600s as the date range I would be working with. This may or may not carry over into the novel. I picked the months based off of the seasons. Regular months do not exist in my world, but rather a series of holidays that separate the year, the seasons, and the number of moon cycles within the season… there are terms for these spans of time, but I will worry about those as a last finishing detail. For now, the 12 month cycle is enough to give me an idea of the seasons.

The ‘History’ section is notes on heritage or anything of importance I feel I need to include that does not fit into the character’s timeline.

The timeline is major events in the character’s life and the year they occur.
Consider me paranoid, but I am not going to expose the plot of my novel to the internet at random. That is why I have used the handy ***plot note function. I left the things at are non-plot critical. :)

When I am setting up the timelines, I find that having the ability to look at the year something occurs help keeps plot bunnies at bay. It also gives me a feel for location. If I know that in this year, a character was somewhere doing a specific something, I can make certain that the events surrounding the character are more consistent at a glance. This prevents a character from being at two places at one time. I have done this before. It was rather embarrassing.

Once I am completed the timeline, I will add the following traits:

Personality: Fun-Loving, Affectionate, Prankster, Care-free
Skills: Rope Tricks, Horseback riding, Archery

These traits were randomly selected and not a part of the actual character, but meant as a demonstration. Once I have selected the Personality and Skills traits, I embellish on their levels with the trait and how it alters the behaviour of the character.

This becomes the foundation for the character. As I write the story, I will add to the timeline by marking seasonal notes. Example:

1637, Age 45: Third Born
Male, $name
1637, Age 45: Death of Wife
Winter, Childbirth
1638, Age 46: Death
Spring, Illness

I will try to leave the timeline as open ended as possible until the first draft is done.

The worst part about doing detailed character notes like this is the time investment it takes to ensure the timelines are accurate. However, it is well worth the time investment due to the sense of world I get from doing it. It also allows me to build an overall timeline for the kingdom I am working with. If I choose to do a true epic, this will allow me to build the kingdom timeline for the continent / global timeline.

I hope this sharing gives you something to think about!

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