Building a History

Pyramid

As I work on my work in progress there are moments when I think ‘wait, why does he feel that, or why would she do that in such a way?’ These characters have a past and they are revealing themselves as I write their stories. Sometimes I can see the characters, glimpse of their hair color, how tall they are, what they are wearing, but that’s all surface, these characters have a story, and it’s my job to share that story.

hands

You can’t start with how people look and speak and behave and come to know how they feel. You must know exactly what’s in their hearts and minds before they ever set visible foot on the stage. You must know all, then not tell it all, or not tell too much at once.  ~ Eudora Welty, from The Observation Deck

characters

As I started this new work in progress I started to write down the characters names and jotted down what they might look like, but then I something else happened. I wrote down why the male protagonist was looking for his wife’s killer, he’s ex-military and now a lawyer and with the combination of his military training gave he has the skills to figure out the puzzle. Now why he was in the military will be another part of the puzzle, I love the creative process!

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Many writers create elaborate dossiers for their characters. They know not only how they appear, but how they evolved into their present selves. They know their strengths and weaknesses, their triumphs and traumas, their habits and tics. They can describe a character’s favorite music, mode of transport, and breakfast food, plus all their health, money and relationship issues. ~Naomi Epel

character

Any time I am working on a new story, my characters come to me with who they are, what they like to eat, what to wear, where they work, if they have a dog or not and why they have a dog or not. The details come quick and I need to write them down as fast as possible. If I don’t jot down their lives, then I will forget if their hair color and I may write in one chapter they have blonde hair and then another chapter they have dark hair, it can get a little confusing. To avoid that confusion I have borrowed a technique from a friend who put her character develop into a spread sheet. The sheet is very detailed with their names right down to a scar that is over a left eye because they got hit in there with a sharp rock when they were younger and in a fight with the school bully and they were standing up to the bully to prove that they couldn’t be pushed over, that they are strong and the scar reminds them of this strength. The character development spread sheet is a new tool for me, but it is working as I build the story’s history.

What is your favorite way to plot out your characters? Do you use a spread sheet or post-it notes? Is your wall covered in a big piece of paper so that you scribble your characters traits onto the paper? I’d love to know how your keep your characters in order.

Until next time, keep on typing. . . .

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One thought on “Building a History

  1. I use Evernote to do character sketches. I use the same qualities for each character sketch: physical traits, family background, where they’ve lived, occupation, education, and habits. I should include a paragraph where they “speak” to me about random situations, kind of like a job interview.

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