Hi all! Please give a warm welcome to Shannon. Her blog, On Writing: Voyeuristic Explorers Unite, has a bit of everything from reviews to some insights on what to ponder when writing. I am particularly enjoying her posts about brainstorming her new novel.
Which is why I am so thrilled that she sent me this post...
Brainstorming Character Development
How well do we know our characters, really?
That’s the question I ask myself whenever I sit down to write or edit my work. There are many techniques you can use to find out the superficial details and basic opinions, but it’s a lot of work to really understand the characters better than they understand themselves. What do they want? I mean, really want? And more importantly, why?
The biggest trouble with diving down into the core of the character is that it’s easy to get sidetracked by our own schemas (structured clusters of pre-conceived ideas). Schemas can lead us to apply stereotypical responses to our characters and make basic assumptions that make them more stereotypical at a base level. I could design a focused and career driven woman, let’s call her Bridget, who wants to make it in a man’s world and shrugs off the trappings of femininity. She’s strong, calm, collected, late middle-aged, works as a CEO of a large corporation, loves to golf, is happily married, and has three children. She doesn’t mind getting dirty and prefers rough and tumble to anything else. In and of herself, she isn’t a stereotype although her dislike of all things feminine is a fairly common trope for characters working in a Man’s World.
But if I turn around and say ‘Oh, she resents reminders of her femininity because her parents always wanted a son and ignored her’ or ‘because her parents always wanted a son and so they pretended she was their son’, you’re taking the easy option. True, it happens, and it might be the right answer for this character, but can you be sure if you don’t brainstorm other possibilities?
What if she was a very feminine child but realised that trappings of femininity really reduced your chances of business success and just made a very prudent decision? What if she always gravitated toward so-called masculine hobbies, had more male friends, and therefore just happened to be more comfortable surrounded by masculine trappings? You could even have the whole ‘raised in a big family of brothers’ though that’s still a more common trope for tomboy women. Perhaps she’s actually very power-hungry and originally tried to coerce people as an ultra-feminine girl but found that no one took her seriously so she adapted her behavior? Or maybe her mother was just the same as her and it’s just a family tradition?
Some of you may be wondering if it even matters why she’s more masculine and whether you should mention it. The answer to the first part is that it never hurts to know the reasons behind why your character does what she does. The answer to the second part is: perhaps not. However, the reasons driving your character’s actions will manifest in subtle ways and even if it’s not overtly stated, you can change a lot about how a character behaves and talks just by changing the fundamental driving mechanisms behind key character traits.
So give it a go. Brainstorm. Question. Wonder just what might have made your character into the person they are today. Clues can be found at any point of their lifespan or even in the lifespans of the generations who came before them.
What do you have to lose?
Thank you again for you're insightful post, Shannon!
Before I go, I want to remind you that I have Friday spots open from June. Drop me a line if you want to take part. My e-mail address it firstname.lastname@example.org (mishagericke(AT)gmail(DOT)com).
Also, remember to enter the competition for Treasures of Carmelidrium!
And finally, I have been interviewed for the first time! Click here if you want to read it.