Here, I think we are starting to get to the meat of a character, an important aspect that shapes a character’s personality, worldview etc. Before I dig into actual tips, I think this aspect is generally easier to fill for a character who’s older or with a wide variety of experiences. Or maybe that’s just the way I tend to conceptualise important memories.
I tend to think within life stages: childhood, coming to age, adulthood, middle ages etc. So in general, they often span the following aspects:
- life/deaths experienced
- coming to age ceremonies
- love relationships incl. marriages
- personal triumphs/tragedies
- first time experiences
To be honest, I usually just let my mind wander across different life stages of a character and it will eventually throw up enough memories. Not sure that I can add further to this other than that I refer to Relationships and Past-times in a pinch.
Firstly, I’m back! Well, actually this is my 2nd week back but you gotta give me some slack since I went straight back to work on Monday after arriving back in Melbourne on Sunday 10am. I didn’t realise how tired I was until I was nodding off on the train back to home after work while standing last Wednesday!
Anyway, back to this post where I will provide some personal tips on how to brainstorm how characters tend to spend their time. Essentially, I cheat a lot since I think about the following questions/prompts:
- key individuals from the character’s social circle and the normal activity that character tends to do with each
- hobbies of the character which usually come from talent section
- activities that the character tend to on a day-to-day basis besides self-maintenance activities so could include housechores, a particular occupation/living etc.
And that’s it, short and sweet today.
If you followed this blog from the start, you would know that I started off with just character moods but then I found that often what I put down is not a mood but rather a feeling (yes, I’m pedantic with definitions and technicalities). I tried to just focus on moods but it didn’t work and thinking about it some more, I don’t really think that I need to be making such fine distinctions since the goal of the character grids is just to brainstorm. So I just changed the label instead.
I don’t think tips really needs to be provided for coming up with moods & feelings for characters (other than an Excel sheet of moods&feelings candidates, I will put up a link to a Google sheet containing candidates for selected aspects of characterisation at the conclusion of this particular blog series) but I do think it is useful to think about two categories for moods & feelings:
- The character norm: this is moods & feelings that a character tend to experience in his everyday life. They convey a sense of personality and how a character tends to behave
- Story-event-driven: this is moods & feelings that a character experiences as particular story events happen to them. These might reinforce the character norm or might come into conflict with the character norm. I wouldn’t worry too much about whether it’s one or the other at this stage but this might be an useful area to consider later on.
By the way, I’m going on a 3 week holiday to China at the end of next week so there will be no posts during that time but I will come back. This series will continue and there’re still more author interviews lined up to go alive once I’m back so stay tuned for them and more!
So this is the 2nd post in the series where I dissect specific components of the character grid, a method I use to flesh out my characters. Since I tend to fill in Talents and Flaws in a block, I’m just going to combine them in a single post.
Before I delve into the tips, I want to firstly say that I interpret talents as skills/capabilities and in broad terms such that an inability or low skill level in something also goes under Talents. Does this lead to unbalanced characters with more flaws than positive aspects, you ask? I would say no, you will see in a minute.
In general, whether it’s talents or flaws, I tend to brainstorm a mixture of 2 distinct categories: major/story driving ones and minor/innocuous ones. So this is one of the tricks for keeping a character balanced; give them flaws/inabilities but they don’t have to be major ones and can have nothing to do with the story. The goal of the character grid is just to brainstorm character traits to get a better sense of how characters are like and relevance to the actual story is actually secondary here.
Now, let’s consider minor/innocuous talents and flaws. I usually draw them from 3 sources (there’re more that one can think of but remember these are personal tips so not meant to be exhaustive. In fact, I would appreciate it if anyone can leave comments that expands on what I put down here):
- artistic (including calligraphy, poetry and literature)/musical pursuits ie. whether someone is good/bad at drawing, playing a specific instrument etc.
- the physical senses: sight, hearing, smell and taste. So far I don’t think I’ve made use of the touch as a sense but unless the character happens to be blind or has a specific occupation, I guess it wouldn’t occur to me to think that a particular character has a superior/inferior sense of touch relative to the average person
- personal habits and past time: For innocuous flaws, I usually fall back on things like sweating, snoring that are personal habits, character traits like tendency to spoil loved ones or hold grudge depending on rough character orientation on the good/evil spectrum and in terms of talents, I drill down to details like good/bad at a particular childhood game in a pinch
Turning to story driving talents/flaws, I usually think about the following sources:
- Fighting skills (weaponry, strength, stamina, dexterity, speed, magic powers etc.)
- What I call reactional abilities such as:
- Decision-making: how fast they can make decisions, are they rash in decision-making or do they weigh all of the pros and cons, what factors impede them from making an informed, rational decisions as the norm
- Social interactions: leadership skills, negotiation/bargaining skills, are they stubborn/prideful
- Ability to adapt to new situations and speed
The last part of the puzzle to character talents/flaws for me is that I constantly remind myself that most things in life is double-edged.
Now that I’ve been using the 10 by 10 Character Grids for a while now and found that I liked them as a way to let me get into my characters, I thought I will start a series to explore each element of them in greater details, which is basically creating a tips series for different aspects of a character.
I’m starting with Relationships because I’ve noticed that I tend to get to the full 10 items on this aspect of a character grid relatively quick. But before I get to the tips, let me answer first the question of what would I have achieved by the end of brainstorming 10 aspects on a character’s Relationships?
So how do I come up with Relationships real quick? By essentially coming up with answers to the following questions:
- What is the immediate family situation like?
- Both parents still living?
- How many parents does a character have (I’m writing fantasy, Oriental fantasy especially, so it is possible that I will be writing about polygamistic society)?
- How many siblings?
- How many spouses/ex-spouses?
- How many children?
- Who amongst these are significants in the life/mind of the character? What are the relationships between them actually like? Is it more in the realm of positive feelings like love and affection or negative feelings like competition and grudges and downright hate? Or a mixture of both?
- Family values
- What is the extended birth family situation like?
- Do any of the relatives play a significant role in the character’s mind/life?
- If so, what is the exact relationship like?
- Does the character have a lot of friends or only a few or none at all?
- Who are the ‘notables’ in this aspect?
- Are the friendships reciprocated?
- Romance/love interest
- Any? If so, who and how is their current status?
- What is the character’s overall social standing?
- What does acquaintances and people who know of the character generally view him/her as? Superior to themselves, on par or below themselves?
- What is the basis of such a view?
- General people interaction
- Attitude towards strangers upon first meeting