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post #1 of 6 (permalink) Old 07-21-09, 05:44 PM Thread Starter
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Default The Writer's Circle – Week #7 [Know Your Characters]

The Writer's Circle – Week #7 [Know Your Characters]

Hello everyone and welcome to Week #7 of the Writer's Circle! This week features an article by Lisa Shearin called: “Dueling With Words, Really get to know your characters.” It deals with character development. To what depth should you develop your characters? Does a more developed character make the story easier to write? She gives her opinions on both in this article. My discussion questions will follow the the article and deal with the same topic! Please enjoy! Oh, and one more thing. I will be moving the Writer's Circle post dates from Monday to Tuesday to better accommodate my schedule. My weekends are being spent more and more on other projects and it has frequently delayed the Monday postings of the Writer's Circle. Hopefully moving the Writer's Circle posts to Tuesday will help me keep a more regular deadline schedule. So from now on I will be posting The Writer's Circle dicussions on Tuesday at 10:00am US Central Standard Time (my time). You will probably need to do the math to figure the difference if you are not in this time zone...sorry. I hope you continue to enjoy reading and participating in the Writer's Circle discussions just as much as I enjoy writing them! Thanks again!

Dueling With Words
Really get to know your characters
By: Lisa Shearin

FOR ME, hitting a snag in a book usually happens like this: I'm writing, everything's going great, I'm in the zone, and the words are flowing. Then I move on to the next scene or chapter, and I hit a wall. The writing slows to a trickle or stops dead in its tracks, and my characters refuse to cooperate. And the only thing that force-feeding words into their mouths is going to get me is more bogged down.

Most often the problem is that I don't feel comfortable with the scene, and if I'm not comfortable, my characters aren't comfortable. All this discomfort boils down to one or two things – either I'm writing the wrong scene for the wrong time in the book, or the scene doesn't belong in the book. Period.

But what if I know it's the right scene at the right time and the words still aren't flowing? When I'm in the zone, it's like I'm eavesdropping on my characters and typing what they're saying as fast as I can. It's like a runner's high for writers. To get into the zone, I have to do two things: Shut up, and listen.

I'm a bit of a control freak, and that concept seeps onto the page or screen. Listening seems like such a simple thing, but it's not. Writers on a deadline want to control the direction their book takes, the pace at which it is written, and the schedule it should stick to. I'm on my fourth book, and it's just now starting to sink through my thick skull that I really don't have much, if any, control over these things – and I never will. A book is a creative work, and creativity refuses to punch a time clock.

The only way I can get toe words flowing again is to sit quietly and completely immerse myself in the scene. I've been with my characters a long time, and I know them well. But just like family and friends, my characters will occasionally throw me a curve ball. Like real people, characters grow and change. I learn more about them with each book. Their personalities, physical mannerisms, and the way they talk and react in a given situation changes over time.

The key to good writing is to get to know your characters just as well as you know the real people in your life. I should probably say flesh-and-blood people, because as most writers will tell you, their characters are like real people to them.

You know what your husband/wife/significant other/best friend would say or do in any given situation because you know him or her that well. Though sometimes he or she will surprise you and do something completely different and unexpected. It's what keeps life interesting. And when the same thing happens with your characters, and you capture it in your book, it's what will keep your readers turning the pages.
And here's a little bit about Lisa Shearin:

--Lisa Shearin, author of The Trouble With Demons and other fantasy-adventure novels, blogs about fiction writing at
OK, lets talk about developing your characters. Is it really necessary to go so in depth with you characters? I think so. I know that there are people who like to develop their characters as they go along, but how easy is it to consistently write with underdeveloped characters? I personally feel that I need to know a lot about my characters before putting them down into a story. I make it a point to not use my characters unless they are completely fleshed out. Of course, you can not plan for everything, and even my fully developed characters, as Lisa says, “will occasionally throw me a curve ball.”

Lets talk about who's in control when it comes to writing. Lisa says that she has little to no control as to which direction her novels go, and that it is completely in the hands of her characters. I find it hard to believe that there is little she could do to direct her novel. That seems a little extreme. I know that after I have plotted my story and have started running with it, my characters can take the story in many different directions. However, I can always steer the main line of the story in the necessary direction, if my characters begin to stray.

And another thing, how do you treat your characters? When it comes to status, do you treat them as a “member of your family?” I'm sure it can feel like it sometimes. I know that I feel I know my characters like best friends. How about the rest of you all? How do you relate to your characters? I for one, develop my characters so much that it feels like I'm privy to every facet of their existence. Which in a way is true I guess, since I created them. Anyways, thats all I have for this week. I hope you enjoyed reading this weeks entry.

Just as a heads up, I'm working on a HUGE post on character development. I've asked a friend of mine, who is also an author, to give her opinions/process on developing her characters. On top of this I will go over my methods/processes of developing characters and even scan one of my character sheets, and embed it into the post, for you all to see. Hopefully you will all enjoy it. I'm not sure when it will be posted but probably a couple of posts from now.

Write on,

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post #2 of 6 (permalink) Old 07-22-09, 03:01 AM
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i completely agree with what this lady has to say. i frequently have little bouts when i feel like i need to write a good story and i do it often to help relieve me of stress, as of now im still writing a story i started my freshman year in high school, it's taken me awhile but it's almost done. I love to explain the details about the characters in my stories that i write becuase i believe it helps me write about them and explain why they do what they do.

Here is the beginning of my fluff for my Iron Warriors Eighth Grand Company

"A fortress is a living thing: the commander its brain, the walls its bones, the sensors its eyes and ears, the troops its blood, their weapons its fists. This tells us two things: If one organ fails, the whole dies. And if the whole dies, no single organ can survive alone."
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post #3 of 6 (permalink) Old 07-26-09, 08:29 PM Thread Starter
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She's got a point when it comes to writing stories. When i write, its the same as her feeling of eavesdropping on her characters and trying to write it down. I feel like all i have to do is place my character(s) in a scene and they take it from there. When you have a character that is developed enough, you don't really have to think of what that person would say in this or that situation, it just comes to you automatically. When you can relate to your characters as closely as Lisa describes it makes writing the story much easier.

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post #4 of 6 (permalink) Old 07-26-09, 10:41 PM
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One point about characters being comfortable - I feel very strongly that characters should remain who they are regardless of situation, I hate it when characters fundamentally change and/or act out of character just to further a plot development. Here are two examples from popular TV sci-fi, one showing how to do it right and one showing how not to do it.

How Not To Do It: Babylon 5, Season 5

Lenier, the Minbari who for 4 seasons has based his character entirely around loyalty and honour, suddenly betrays Delenn and Sheridan - possibly the two people he's most directly tasked with protecting - because he's suddenly revealed to have been secretly in love with Delenn for the last 4 years, and so he does it out of jealousy of Sheridan. Why did this happen? Well, the scriptwriters needed a way to engineer a situation with Sheridan & Delenn in danger, and the most convenient way - given where all the characters physically were at that point in the season - was to have Lenier do it. Never mind that this completely broke character with how Lenier had been played for years, or that it cheapened anything he subsequently did because you could no longer trust him. It was arse, and the scriptwriters should have been able to find a more consistent and coherent way of developing the situations they wanted, rather than just changing an established character for convenience's sake.

How To Do It Right: Battlestar Galactica, Season 4

Saul Tigh, who has for three and a half seasons been a vehemently anti-Cylon character and utterly compelling in the contrast between his huge personal flaws and his rigid committment to duty, is discovered to have been a Cylon all along, which is a massive shock to him. He accepts the revelation, but finds his loyalty to Adama and the Galactica to be the most important thing to him nonetheless and keeps his newly-found toasterness to himself while being outwardly unchanged as Adama's iron-hard XO. Cue a fantastic scene near the end of the season, where Tigh finally has no option but to go to Adama's cabin and tell him that he's actually a Cylon, with huge fallout for both characters (Tigh gets chucked in the brig and Adama goes off the rails big-time).

Now, a lame scriptwriting team would have had Tigh basically go "Ah, OK, so I'm a Cylon now, well better roll with it then" and start acting like a Cylon; but that would have been arse. Instead we saw him stay true to his self-perceived duty, and when he confronts Adama with his true nature he doesn't apologise for being a Cylon, just for not telling Adama as soon as he found out. It's absolutely gripping viewing, and plays like the 'nature vs. nurture' argument made flesh - Tigh knows he's a Cylon, but all his remembered life he's been an officer and he damn well chooses to remain true to what he perceives to be right. Awkward situations like this, which a lame writer would avoid because they're so awkward, can be absolutely compelling; BSG was full of such moments, given that it was filled with real characters, not plot devices given a name and kept hanging around to expedite some plot device when needed (à la, for example, so much of Star Trek: TNG).


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post #5 of 6 (permalink) Old 07-28-09, 12:53 AM
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Characters are scary things. To me, they seem to be built more in the subconscious than the conscious mind. The way they interact with each other, and they build themselves, is beyond me to understand; it's all I can do to keep writing in the face of some of the things they surprise me with.

When writing characters, I try to keep in mind whatever I have planned for them in the future, and laying subtle triggers and hints, so that when they finally snap, it comes as a surprise, but is still the logical course of action.

CSM Plog, Tactica

What sphinx of plascrete and adamantium bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination? Imperator! Imperator!
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post #6 of 6 (permalink) Old 07-28-09, 03:57 PM Thread Starter
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Great posts guys! Svartmetall, i see what you are saying, your examples are magnificent!


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