8/31/12

Developing Your Character with Jemi Fraser

 When I met Talli Roland and Hart Johnson during the A-Z Challenge, I also met another unpublished writer (like me) who was always there commenting and encouraging others in the challenge. A warm welcome to Jemi Fraser!


Thanks so much to Laura for having me here!


For me, reading is all about the characters. If I don’t care about the characters, even the most intriguing plot won’t pull me in.


So, how do we develop characters other people will care enough about to read our stories?


Lots of ways. There are probably a bazillion ways to create characters. Like most other things in this writing journey of ours, we have to find what works for us. We can’t use every idea or we’d never get the stories written.


I’m a pantster. I’m turning into more of a pantster with plotter tendencies as I learn and grow, but there’s next to nothing on paper before I start writing the story. You’ll find lots of writers use character sheets, character interviews and lists of questions for their characters. Great ideas.


If your brain works that way. Mine doesn’t.


My story ideas generally start with a spark of emotion – a strong emotion. This emotion is caused by an intense event – sometimes from what will become the final scene of my book, or a climax scene, or an initiating event, or a trauma from an MC’s past, or from the moment my male and female MCs meet (I do write romance!).


After the emotion, characters materialize (my 2 MCs first) and I let that scene walk around in my head for a bit. I watch the characters, check out their reactions. And I let my subconscious do some work too. That works surprisingly well for me.


Once I know my characters’ emotional reactions to that scene, I know the most important things about them. The backstory filters in and lets me know WHY they’re reacting the way they are.


My next step is to wonder about the first scene. It’s almost always connected somehow to the scene I’ve imagined. Again, the emotions come first for me. What strong emotion is going to be at the forefront in the beginning of this character’s story? What triggers the story?


Then I write.


I sometimes end up rewriting my first chapter two or three times before I feel like I know my people well enough to tell their story properly. By then I know their physical appearance, their family & friend connections and the problems they need to solve.


Of course, my understanding of the characters deepens as that first draft develops, but there aren’t usually any major changes.


So, there you have it. For me, it’s all about the emotions. How do your characters develop?

47 comments:

  1. Thanks again for having me here today, Laura!! :)

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    1. It is an honor and a pleasure to have you here Jemi! :)

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  2. I'm so glad I'm not alone!!! ;o) I do general little descriptions of main characters, such as names and ages and perhaps how they might be related to someone...but that is the extent of my outlines! ;o) I would feel so constrained if I had to write to an outline. I'm a pantster too! Ask Laura...I'm just flyin' by the seat of my pants most of the time! ;o)

    Great article!

    Suzan Tisdale

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    1. You are the queen of the pantsers, Suzie!

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  3. Susan - so nice to meet another non-outliner!! Flying by the seat of the pants is so much fun - even though I'm trying to become more of an outliner!! :)

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  4. This was just what I needed today. Thank you for the inspiration.

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    1. It's so cool when you find exactly what you're looking for, isn't it??

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  5. Suzi - you're very welcome! Glad I could help :)

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  6. everything starts with the spark of emotion :)

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  7. Dezzy - I totally agree! For me, it's ALL about the emotions :)

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  8. That's cool. Great post. I tend to look at appearance first... The see what they do... My characters evolve :) emotions have to be organic that way they ring true to the character, hey?
    Xx

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    1. No matter what happens in the story, if the emotions resonate, I'm hooked!

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  9. Michelle - I agree - if the emotion doesn't make sense the character's no fun at all! :)

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  10. I love hearing about other people's creative processes. Characters are definitely the driving force of fiction for me. Many books fall down because the characters don't feel 'real'. When I'm getting to know my characters, I ask all kinds of questions about them and then try to work out where those traits could lead the plot. I'm really looking forward to unleashing my latest main character, who's been bouncing around in my head for a while now while I prepare my current book for publication! :-)

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  11. Cally - thanks! It's so exciting to get to know new characters! I love those moments where they become real - and then there's no going back! And I love when the plot is integrally tied to their character traits - that's awesome! Good luck with yours!!

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  12. I tend to start with story and a general philosophical idea and the character and emotion is built from those. It sounds almost as though I work opposite from your method.


    Lee
    Tossing It Out

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    1. I think I'm part way between you and Jemi. I start with the personality and wonder why they are who they are...

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  13. Lee - that's so cool! :) I love how even though we have the same goal, we have the same end goal in sight!! :)

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  14. Interesting way to develop your characters! I always start with a 'what if' event, such as, what if a spoiled rich girl traveled back in time and was mistaken for a criminal?

    Isn't it interesting how we don't all follow the same path toward the goal (a completed novel)?

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  15. Ms. H - thanks! I love what ifs too! And I agree - it's so much fun finding out how we all go about reaching the same finish line! :)

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  16. Very informative... an entirely different way of looking at character development. A great angle too.

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  17. Michelle - thank you! I love that we all have our own systems :)

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  18. Carol - don't know why your comment isn't showing on my screen when I can see it in the email... I'll copy it here:

    Jemi - I always love reading how other writers write. I agree that strong emotions are at the heart of every good story.

    Laura - Nice to meet you :)


    I don't know if it's my teacher brain, but I love seeing how different people do their thing too!

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  19. you crazy panster you! are you a scorpio? just curious, cause i am...those emotions really make the characters!
    great post!

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  20. Tara - too funny! Nope - I'm a Leo - but on the cusp with Cancer :) Might have to do a post about zodiac signs and writers & see where we're at!! :)

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  21. Love reading how you develop your characters, Jemi! I usually have a kernel of an idea, and they really come into their own when I write the first draft.

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  22. My character comes to me first, then her problem, and then I begin outlining.

    It was great reading about your process. I like how we all do things differently.

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  23. Talli - thanks! It's fun watching them really grow and develop as that first draft goes!

    Medeia - me too! It's so interesting to see the different methods :)

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  24. I have to outline my plots; otherwise, I get lost when my characters invariably hijack the story. My characters on the other hand, I have to feel and wrap around myself like a cozy blanket or slip them on like a second skin. If I can't feel what they are feeling then I can't find their voices. It makes my head when I'm writing a rather interesting place.

    It's nice to know there are other people out there that do this too.

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  25. Autmn - our heads are really quite bizarre & interesting places!! I'm working more on my plotting skills - although they're still very limited. Scrivener is helping me with that! :)

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  26. What an excellent post! It is so fun to hear how others create their characters! I try to map out some basics about each character before I write, so I have an idea who they are. As I write they might change a bit and personality traits emerge that I might not have seen coming. Since I only have a rough idea- they have lots of room to grow. :)

    ~Jess

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  27. So glad you had Jemi on your blog so I could find it. I love your blog and am now following you. :)
    ~Jess

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  28. Jess - thanks so much! It's fun to watch those characters become real and have depth! I find knowing their gut level reactions to emotional events really helps shape them for me. It's a lot of fun! :)

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  29. Hi Jemi,

    I loved reading your process for developing your characters. Sounds awesome way to go if you get to know them so well before telling their stories. Readers connect with deep characters better.

    Thanks Laura!

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  30. Hi Nas :) I was over at your blog minutes ago!! I do like to get to know them and their reactions to powerful emotions works for me! :)

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  31. I let my subconscious do a lot of the work, too. Usually a real life event sparks an idea, and a character appears. I get to know that character in my head, thinking about them for months, learning how they feel about the event that took place. Then I start writing. I'm a pantser, too, except when collaborating. It works out better to plot out each chapter and the skeleton of the entire book with my coauthors. Seems like I've been running into lots of pantsers lately! When I started blogging a year and a half ago, I didn't even know what a pantser was!

    Nice to 'meet' you, Laura. I like your blog. Very cool!

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  32. Lovely! I wish my subconscious was better at keeping notes and then I wouldn't forget so much about my characters. lol! Thanks, Jemi, characters are the hardest things for me in writing!

    Nice to see you again, Laura! {hugs}

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  33. Lyn - I didn't know what the term meant either :) I do like letting those characters roam around in my head - it really works! I can't imagine collaborating with someone else to write - but it would be a lot of fun!

    Jackee - they're my favourite part - and probably the easiest for me. It's so interesting how we're all so different! :)

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  34. It's all about emotions, goals and flaws for me.

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  35. Lynda - that's it! Exactly. without those 3, there isn't a story I'm going to care about :)

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  36. Hi, Jemi,
    Good post. My stories are all about the characters. Sure, I try to come up with out-of-the-ordinary situations, but the men/women/children who form the story are key to how each novel turned out, so yeah, I do have to know them quite well to be able to convey the effects of their joy, pain, successes and failures.

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  37. Thanks Joy! Getting to know the characters is a lot of fun and then it gets even better when you get to watch them achieve that happy ending! :)

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  38. Thank, Jemi! I love reading how other writers write. I'm always hoping to pick up a new trick. :-) I really feel I should think about my first scene more and what emotion I'm trying to show. Good stuff.

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  39. Jennifer - thanks - me too! I like approaching it from the emotional standpoint - but that's just the way my brain works :)

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  40. I usually evolve my characters through plot--I'll think of an event or scene and then experiment with how a person might react in such a situation.

    Great post!

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  41. Golden Eagle - that's a fun way to do it! I like watching how the characters react to plot events! :)

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