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September 6, 2012
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1. Start with a concept. This is how most of my characters start, and they usually begin with two or three word descriptors. "Demon stallion" or "spoiled dragon prince" or "psychic dolphin". Characters as this stage are more anima than anything; they are forces at play in the primordial soup of story. When an idea is this new, I try not to focus on it too much. Ideas need time to germinate, and I've found myself disappointed in times past when the potential of the character was so much more exciting than the concrete reality of what they became. Since during this time I'm developing plot and main conflict, I try to move characters around and see who I gravitate towards. This helps story and character grow organically. It's during this time that I try and determine what the character struggles with, the yin and yang of their internal difficulty. For example, I was recently asked to come up with a character for an urban fantasy roleplay, with no real details about the world other than it would be similar to Buffy: contemporary setting, high-schoolers fight evil, etc. My only other bit of information was that each character could have a magical or supernatural element if they wanted. I immediately came up with the idea of an extremely stoic, gentle, laid-back hippie type that had strong values in helping people and being a pacifist. But he would have some kind of curse on him, something that would wipe away his conscious mind and turn him into something monstrous and out-of-control. Regardless of the trappings of this character (i.e., whether be became a vampire or a werewolf or possessed by a demon), at his core he had a fantastic conflict going. His concept was peaceful-guy-cursed-to-violence, and I was quite excited to see how he would cope, what his journey would be. (Too bad that roleplay never materialized, but whatever.)

2. Determine role and archetype. This is an important next step to figure out your ensemble. I've heard it said that sometimes writers can try to cram too many characters into a story when really they have a character who belongs somewhere else. Studying story structure like Hero's Journey and 20 Master Plots and TvTropes comes in handy here. If you've got two Lancers, or two The Hearts, or everyone is a The Stoic, maybe your characters need some mixing up. Character concepts are a lot easier to abandon or change at this stage. Also, creating characters for a novel is not as willy-nilly and full of wild abandon as creating one for RP (or it shouldn't be). Characters should have a point, and major ones have important roles to play in plot and in developing believably. Believe me when I say that telling yourself "Eh, this'll work itself out later" will run you facefirst into difficulty. This is more of a "homework" stage than any other, because it requires knowledge of literature and story structure. (At least for me.)  Knowing plot elements can sometimes develop your characters, too: "A baby-killer might be interesting … ooh! What if one of the characters failed to save a baby in the past?" And so on.

3. World-build for the character.At this point, I've unusually figured out major tectonic plates in story and world. Countries, races, politics, race relations, relationships between countries, cultures, beliefs, and so on all influence my characters. Of course plot and world can affect character and vice versa, so don't think any of this is some kind of one-way thing. For example, my "spoiled dragon prince" concept. I started asking questions. "Why is he spoiled? Why's he a dragon? What kind of royalty rules?" I eventually figured out that my prince was as spoiled because his people's ability to transform into dragons made them demi-gods, and that they were worshiped by a strict caste system. The power of the regency and their caste system created ripple effects in the world-building: their country was highly xenophobic, with heavily controlled borders, and countries on the outside saw the dragon people as crazy powerful and not someone you'd want to mess with. Then I thought "What if someone did want to mess with them? What if they decided 'You know what my army could use? Dragon soldiers.'" My first major piece of plot arose out of world-building for the character.

4. Create an arc for the character. By this point, I'm filling out a character sheet. Likes, dislikes, flaws, fears, things that will help me figure out the why of what the character values and sees as important. These ideally provide story stakes. This is also when I have to figure out the change that will occur in the characters and (hopefully, but not always, damn you, Tokotsi) how it comes about. Plot by this point is usually fairly figured out; I keep an outline in a text document that can be changed if the need arises. But I keep my outline vague enough to keep room for organic changes; you never know when things will develop and surprise you during your actual writing. My characters need to be pretty concrete, but not necessarily the story. I usually don't name my characters until this point, because I like to keep them as forces for as long as possible. Naming a character brings them to life, and it's kind of a point of no return for me. Almost all of my characters have secret meanings in their names, and I'll spend hours looking up things just so I can feel clever. But that's a writing quirk of mine, not a hard and fast rule. None of these are.

5. Play with the characters. One of my favorite moments in starting a novel is the chance to get to write a character defining moment. The first time the character shows up, they behave immediately in a way that establishes them. A lot of writers seem to struggle with this, and I suspect its because they forget to play with their characters. Roleplay taught me how valuable it is to just put a situation in front of a character and see how they'll react. I tend to talk to myself in the car or when I'm cleaning, acting out characters. And just letting them interact with each other, or with problems. I've gotten quite a few good scenes and pieces of dialogue by doing this. Other writers say they interview their characters or act as a therapist for them. Whatever you're doing, do it a lot. You have to know your characters inside and out, so that their behavior is believable and heartfelt. Strong characterization is one of the most important things in writing, and you need to practice the skill of characterizing as much as possible.
  • Mood: Joy
  • Listening to: Trip the Light - Alicia Lemke
  • Playing: `
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:iconleahplainandtallish:
LeahPlainAndTallish Featured By Owner Jun 12, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
It's nice to know I'm not the only person who talks to themselves as their characters. I feel a little less nutty now. :D
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:iconaazhie:
Aazhie Featured By Owner Apr 21, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
"Almost all of my characters have secret meanings in their names, and I'll spend hours looking up things just so I can feel clever."

I am sooo glad other people do this too :) I have too many ridiculous names, but what can I say? Obscure old fashioned names with meanings make me happy.

Thanks again for the excellent tips. They are really nice to review and refresh with.
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:icondastenna:
DasTenna Featured By Owner Jan 4, 2013
These tips may not be "hard and fast rule[s]", as you mentioned at the end of paragraph 4, but as a layman when it comes to writing, I thank you nonetheless for providing them. They are very helpful :nod:
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:iconcpa6982:
CPA6982 Featured By Owner Sep 16, 2012
Thanks for the tips. :-)
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:iconkrystle-tears:
krystle-tears Featured By Owner Sep 13, 2012  Professional Interface Designer
Over the years I've found that characters I start with very vague details tend to be my favorite ones to write. The ones that develop naturally as the story progresses always seem to surprise me.
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:iconmajnouna:
Majnouna Featured By Owner Sep 8, 2012  Professional General Artist
"Characters as this stage are more anima than anything" -- You mean archetypes? Anima is a specific concept that doesn't really fit here.
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:icondroemar:
Droemar Featured By Owner Sep 9, 2012
I suppose I do mean more anima in Jungian way, but I basically meant an unformed essence or life force.
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:iconkaljaia:
Kaljaia Featured By Owner Sep 7, 2012
Yay, a new journal from you.
I like your advice on order of operations for creating a character, and ensuring the diversity of your character types. I once started a story with ten deadpan snarkers and realized I was going nowhere fast. The dialog was funny, but then someone asked if I could tell who was saying what when the dialog tags were gone. I realized they had a point.

I have a lot of scenes written down that are out of my main character's point of view, or out of his timeline; things that will never make it into the main story, but are interactions "off-screen." I have found them to be very helpful in establishing secondary characters' personalities, lives, habits, etc. It gives their "on-screen" interactions with the main character better continuity and helps me remember that they, too, are people in that world with their own emotions, motivations, dreams, etc. independent of my main character and his plots.
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:iconjadedvega:
JadedVega Featured By Owner Sep 7, 2012
Gah, I love your writing tips <3
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:iconprinceofpride:
PrinceofPride Featured By Owner Sep 6, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
"Almost all of my characters have secret meanings in their names, and I'll spend hours looking up things just so I can feel clever."

Heh, and people used to think I was weird for doing this. Anyways, an awesome journal; very helpful to look back at whenever creating a character. Sometimes I get a bit worried though, I think too many of my characters may come off as Blood Knights or Proud Warrior Race guys. It's a bad habit of mine because I just love those archetypes so much.
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:iconlonefox-lonewolf:
LoneFox-LoneWolf Featured By Owner Sep 6, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I never read journals but this one got my attention :) I'm glad I stopped to read it and thank you for sharing~ Very helpful!
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:icondroemar:
Droemar Featured By Owner Sep 6, 2012
Welcome to the awesomeness that is my journals. :)
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:iconpaperiapina:
Paperiapina Featured By Owner Sep 6, 2012  Student General Artist
This reminds me to write down some notes on one of my fantasy settings.

I have this one world that's like ten years old by now (the sort of a dumping place for all the possible ideas I ever had that didn't fit into more organised worlds. It's cast used to be basically a bunch of random Mary Sues and that really broke all possibilities for any interaction) that I have thrown to trash several times over, but it just refuses to die without a fight. I've been tinkering with it again lately after merging another similar setting of mine into it, and I'm finally seeing signs of actual story arcs. I just need to organize the characters better and see if I finally could actually make something of it.
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:iconomniwitch:
OmniWitch Featured By Owner Sep 6, 2012  Professional Writer
Hahaha, I've done the 'interviewing' thing a few times on secret pieces of paper. Inviting characters into your headspace for a chat works pretty well, though I'm sure if anybody else saw those prompts they'd think I'm nuts.
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:iconcanis-ferox:
Canis-ferox Featured By Owner Sep 6, 2012  Student General Artist
Sometimes I almost regret always being too intimidated or not having enough time to give roleplaying a real try; seems like it can give you some excellent practice.

#5. That's probably my favorite part. I keep it in my head due to some sort of aversion to speaking aloud when not conversing with anyone, but I've been doing it excessively since before I even tried writing seriously. Sometimes I sort of have to leave off actually writing when I get stuck and just go do something and daydream for a while, then thoughts and interactions come more freely. ... which could be part of the reason I'm a ridiculously slow writer, haha. But it does result in some of my favorite material. I guess the hard part for me is all the plot structuring before the writing, but I think I'm making progress on learning it.
This may be my favorite "5 Tips" entry in a while~
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:iconfilougon:
Filougon Featured By Owner Sep 6, 2012  Hobbyist Artisan Crafter
I feel so happy for watching you.
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:icondawnsentinel:
DawnSentinel Featured By Owner Sep 6, 2012
"I tend to talk to myself in the car or when I'm cleaning, acting out characters. And just letting them interact with each other, or with problems. "

I do this too, but some people think it's actually maladaptive daydreaming (yes, it's a real condition).
It's not that bad for me though. Some people can't even get out of their house because they want to keep daydreaming and ignore life.
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:iconmagentamorbid666:
magentamorbid666 Featured By Owner Sep 7, 2012
wow, i never knew there was a word for it! thanks
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:icondawnsentinel:
DawnSentinel Featured By Owner Sep 7, 2012
You learn something new everyday! Glad I could help :)
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:icondroemar:
Droemar Featured By Owner Sep 7, 2012
I have to say, I've been thinking about that definition of maladaptive daydreaming, and it has to be the most vague bunch of arbitrary rules in the world. So, wanting to dance to music counts as kinesthetic motion; wanting to DANCE is BAD? Dysfunctional?
I mean, the article did say it's become popularly generalized and that people have negative effects in their social lives, but still. It seems like its making the argument that being introverted and creative is bad. And god help the poor kid whose parents get a hold of this kitschy phrase and decide their kid is maladaptive instead of gifted.
Granted, if the disorder looks more like Asperger's in appearance, there's a case for it, but man. Talk about arbitrary.
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:icondawnsentinel:
DawnSentinel Featured By Owner Sep 7, 2012
I used to run around the room thinking about stories. For some reason moving around helped me think better. I don't run anymore but I do pace.

Honestly, I think it's fine and helpful as long as you can "function properly".
I wonder, would this be okay in other cultures that like introverts?
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:icondroemar:
Droemar Featured By Owner Sep 7, 2012
I don't know. I think a culture more accepting of introverts would be less concerned with drawing the line between creativity and a disorder that strikes me as relatively harmless, and waaaaaaaay down there on the dysfunctional scale.
I read a few online personal entries of people who say they have MD, and it does seem to be a little more on the autism/asperger's level than that article made it appear. I mean, I was like "Holy shit, I technically do everything on this list because I listen to music to envision things, use creativity as an outlet, and process emotion sometimes by examining my characters."
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:icondawnsentinel:
DawnSentinel Featured By Owner Sep 7, 2012
"...I listen to music to envision things, use creativity as an outlet, and process emotion sometimes by examining my characters."

Same. I really don't see how that is abnormal at all. I thought it WAS normal.

Some people view it as a curse so to speak. Imagination crushing society makes harmless things like that an abnormality.

You should write a journal or something on this.
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:icondroemar:
Droemar Featured By Owner Sep 8, 2012
I think I was more bothered by the vague wording of the article than anything else. I guess because I myself was like "Do I have maladaptive daydreaming? What the hell is this?" Further reading clarified things for me, but I guess I could just see someone being like "GASP! My kid listens to music! My kids forms emotional attachments to characters! TO THE PSYCHOLOGIST!"
I think the culture of anti-abnormality can be hair-trigger, and I think there's a whole generation of kids growing up being told that their abnormality is bad and wrong, when really all it is is unusual. I wonder how many paintings and artistic careers vanished because a parent didn't want to give their kid an outlet, so they just settled for pills.
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(1 Reply)
:icondroemar:
Droemar Featured By Owner Sep 6, 2012
Pfft. I've met way too many wannabe writers who titter at the idea of "talking to their characters." My opinion on that is if you think immersing yourself in the writing process is "silly" or "crazy", you're not taking writing seriously enough. After all, if you're not feeling it, the reader probably won't.
I did google maladaptive daydreaming. It makes a case for me, definitely, but I'm in good company. I have no doubt Beethoven and Dali and Picasso all had it, too. Didn't stop them from doing their laundry either, I bet.
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:icondawnsentinel:
DawnSentinel Featured By Owner Sep 6, 2012
Those people. Unimaginative and way too inflexible = boring story and flat characters.

I talk to my characters when I do the laundry sometimes. Actually makes it go faster.
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:iconfurrama:
Furrama Featured By Owner Sep 6, 2012   Digital Artist
Right now I'm having issues with a character that is... necessary, but not for very long. I'm finding that I like this character a bit too much and I'm drawing attention away from where it needs to be because she's fun to write for. But she's plagued with other issues, her motivation has always been the same but her intelligence levels have risen and fallen many times given how smart or dumb she needs to be in this ONE situation. And if she wasn't so minor to the overall plot, (minor but needed to build up an important character and establish early plot), I'd feel better about stressing over her, how much she should be there. There have been many times I've wanted to just cut her all together, but can't.

She's stopped my writing until I figure her out. But she is very fun to write for. I love her, I hate her. Very frustrating.
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:iconmissdudette:
MissDudette Featured By Owner Sep 6, 2012
Awsome piece, yet again! Thank you. ^^
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:iconjerepasaurus:
Jerepasaurus Featured By Owner Sep 6, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Another chunk of hearty inspiration from you to brighten my day! ♥♥♥
I'm happy to report that by your standards and suggestions, I've already been making characters in wonderfully successful ways for a few years now!
Only about 1 in 12 characters I create ever seem to get stuck without a major purpose in any story beyond a brief supporting role to move the story along.

I have just oneeee guy that didn't flow naturally, what I might call a "forced character" compared to all my others, and I'll be darned if I can get his personality right. It's been about 2 months and nothing has worked yet to solidify his personality at a level that'll lock him into my brain as something I can correctly channel into any setting or situation. Its sort of driving me crazy. 8I
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:icondroemar:
Droemar Featured By Owner Sep 6, 2012
I think everyone has characters once in a while that prove to be way more difficult than they thought. I have a tendency to find it difficult to write a particular archetype, The Stoic or Emotionless Character. They give me trouble every damn time, but most of the time they're necessary to the group dynamic.
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:iconjerepasaurus:
Jerepasaurus Featured By Owner Sep 6, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Oh yeah, I know what you mean. Those types are especially tough for me if they say very little. I end up like, HOW SAY MUCH IN FEW WORDS WITHOUT BEING HULK?
Part of me wishes I could borrow your brains for an hour and have you help me sort out this one character. xDD
I swear, I just need to find the right person to trigger some major epiphany. *goes off to find friend to harass for assistance*
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:icondroemar:
Droemar Featured By Owner Sep 6, 2012
I'm always looking for new prompts for the 5 Tips series, so if you have something you think'd help you can always suggest it.
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:iconfablepaint:
FablePaint Featured By Owner Sep 6, 2012  Professional Filmographer
Ugh on the characters-sharing-archetypes thing, I had that issue with Alphas when I watched the first season. Who WASN'T the smartass, gruff, stoic type? Nobody had any definition except for therapist guy. Thankfully they fixed that by breaking their Hulk-analogue (who suffered from too much hulk, not enough Bruce) and giving him more internal conflict. And establishing other characters more firmly into different archetypes.
I've never been so happy before to see a Heart character.
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:iconlaughingheron:
LaughingHeron Featured By Owner Sep 6, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you for sharing this, it has a lot of great advice for starting writers/roleplayers!
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