Sunday, May 31, 2009

Character Cards

It’s interesting how characters develop from gnat-sized vague impressions to in-your-face personas that won’t let you sleep until you’ve got their story down on paper. They start off like:

Tall guy enters room. Looks angry.

And become something like:

Talon burst through the doorway, ready to knock a few skulls together.

Okay, maybe not a fantastic example - but still, you get the idea. Just who are these people? I mean, seriously…how do writers do what we do? Create worlds, lives, creatures? I, for one, am clueless. But I have a blast figuring out each newbie as they drive into the lot.

Sometimes they’ll arrive on the set fully formed, but often I’ll be a few chapters into a first draft before I can completely visualize them or understand their motives – and even then, plot twists might reveal a motive or talent I’d never suspected. Characters can be that way – closed mouthed until the weirdest moments. I’ve been totally blindsided … and I’m the one writing the damn book.

My new WIP, Witch’s Shadow is part of a series I’m writing with fellow YA paranormal fiction author, Kitty Keswick. We are individually writing books, but they take place in the same world, a pseudo-Salem town called, Origins. Our characters crossover – we have best friends, rivals, enemies and mythologies that mesh together from book to book.

OMG – the planning!

Not only do we have to have a handle on our character’s motives, appearance, goals, failings – we have to share that information with each other in a clear, precise way so that they remain consistent - no matter who created the character, or who is writing them into a scene.

To keep this large cast present in both our minds, we created character cards. These profiles have all the essential information a writer would need. We list: name, appearance, background, motives, goals, personality type, likes, dislike, fears, talents, friends, enemies, etc. We also search the net for images to depict, as closely as possible, how we envision our characters to look like and dress.
We do this with setting as well, naming buildings, creating a town map, sharing photos of interiors/exteriors.

Setting up a mutually shared world is a time consuming and strange process. We disagree, we compromise and we get frustrated, but we’d be so lost without it.

I’ve never had to work so hard at getting to know my characters, so quickly. To not be wishy-washy and constantly changing their traits – frankly, having them pegged down this well makes the writing go a lot smoother. Filling out our character cards was so fun, that we took it a step further and have started to create graphics containing key elements. Here’s mine for my main character, Bea Drake:

Want to really get into your character’s head? Then I suggest creating your own character cards and see what tidbits the process reveals.


Iryna said...

That is such a neat idea! I will definitely try that sometime . . . with graphics! :)

Tracy Belsher said...

Hey Iryna - yeah, try it and let us know how it worked for you. I found that adding the graphics kept me true to the character - I didn't change their eye colour halfway through the book 'cause I

Tami Klockau said...

Awesome idea, Tracy! Love Bea's "trading card". :)

wildink said...

I like this idea, thanks! I always stumble over pinning down the characters before i can get any kind of writing flow going.