Thursday, April 15, 2010


Going back to my roots. Roots as defined is: to have an origin or base. It is also defined in myriad of other ways, including to turn up or dig in the earth with the snout. (I think we will forget that definition.

Roots can be considered the beginning of life or the beginning of the story. Roots or a foundation have to be cemented down before the story can move forward. How does an author build a story?

For some the roots of the story begin with the plot. You might call these authors plotters. My stories begin with the characters (hero and heroine) and a time period. The characters are the life and breath of my stories. I might write anywhere from 10 to 20 pages about the characters before I begin writing. Some authors write even more than that. As my characters develop I add to their legend.

Is it important to your characters birth date? Their horoscope? There favorite color, flavor, or scent? For me it is crucial. Knowing all the little things about your character builds your story and pushes it forward. Knowing important details creates texture, color, and interest.

What are characters worst traits? Or their best?
What does he/she do for amusement? In their free time?
What games do they like, type of music or art?

And the list goes on…

What is important to you about your characters traits? What are must knows before you begin writing?


Alice Sharpe said...

Chris -- Roots, backstory, history -- it's important for plots as well as characters. I tend to think of the plot first and then create the people who inhabit the world and will work through the experiences I have in mind. I need to know what they look like, their age, the situation of their home life, their parents, love history, any children? I don't worry about favorite colors and horoscope and every detail of their lives unless specifics are important to their character, their journey, or the plot or unless some quirk presents itself that just seems like it would add a dimension to that character that would explain their behavior or set them apart or just make them more real.

There are exceptions, of course. There are books that come to me with an over arching rather broad description, such as "revenge." Then I need to come up with an idea that revolves around the futility of revenge which means the book starts with a concept, I guess. There are books that start out with a "What would a woman do if she were being kidnapped and she was riding on this road in this car?" In that case, the character comes first, the situation dovetails.

Neat blog.

Paty Jager said...

Interesting post, Chris!

I'm about half and half on whether the story conception starts with the characters or the plot. But I always have to dig into my characters once I know who they are before I can start their book. I don't go as elaborate as twenty pages about them, but I do jot down characteristics, family history/backstory and what their conflicts are going into and during the story.

Usually as I write the first couple of chapters I learn even more about my characters that I didn't know as I started writing their story.

The project I'm working on now the heroine came to me Bam! I've struggled a little more with the hero but now... I'm lovin' him, too!

Genene Valleau said...

Good questions!

For me, what I know about the characters seems to vary with each story. I usually do character sheets of some sort--though I don't worry about filling in every little detail. And rather than a detailed physical description, I do a general description of my characters and during that process usually one physical trait trail jumps out--unusual colored eyes or a unique scar. Or it may be a personality trail like a love for all things Irish.

Whether the plot or characters come first also varies. Something as simple as a person standing in a doorway with an odd look on their face can send me off on a "what-if" journey. Sheesh, even an odd piece of debris in the road can kick-start my writer's brain.

Some characters and plots come crashing into my stories. Others need coaxing or threats. Sometimes I will also interview my characters or ask them to tell me about their dreams. That usually reveals deeper parts of their personality, which of course results in plot twists and turns.

Overall, it seems my characters and plots develop together. Digging out something I didn't previously know about a character can take the plot in an unexpected direction, or a character's reaction to a plot twist can result in their growth or a test of their courage or determination.

Great fodder for discussion and more thinking!

Kendra said...

I don't know if I've ever come up with a character in the same way. I know most of my stories started based on a plot twist... What if this happened?

The characters... I usually write a few pages on their backstory. I scan my character development books and usually something will jump out at me, triggering a rush of ideas on what that person will be like.

I've used a little technique Bethany mentioned once. "What's in your character's purse?" I'll do that toward the end of the development. If I can answer quickly and thoroughly, I know that I've got my character pegged.