February 27, 2012

Character Sheets

I like to keep my character sheets simple and to the point, namely because I won't really absorb a character's personality until I actually write him/her.

My character sheets contain the following information:
• physical statistics
• motivation and plot relevance
• character connections and how they perceive other characters
• history as it relates to the plot and world
• general outlook and personality traits

I don't need to know who their first crush was or what color their underwear is--unless it's relevant. Everything else can be made up along the way so long as it works.

The most important things on that list, imo, are motivation and plot relevance, which usually ties directly into character connections. Take THE HUNGER GAMES, for example.

What was Peeta's motivation? To protect Katniss and ensure her survival. His plot relevance, specifically, was to first garner sympathy from the viewers (star crossed lovers), then to protect Katniss from the Career tributes, and finally to provide something of an emotional arc later on when Katniss risked her life to return to the Cornucopia and retrieve the medicine for him. All these things are results of their character connections--their history together. Peeta is the boy with the bread. He saved Katniss from starving when they were kids, and his admiration for her eventually grew into love. Thus tying back to his motivation--ensuring Katniss survives The Hunger Games.

This information builds the foundation for your character. These impressions are what the reader will carry with them through the book. Things like his favorite color (orange, I think, was Peeta's) are nice details but not necessary at this stage and can always be thought up later on as needed.

But what about voice?

A character's voice usually becomes more clear as I start writing so, for a character sheet, I tend to gloss over those. But if I'm looking for a stronger grip on a character's personality, I'll do a character interview. An interview helps settle voice and pick out some personality quirks. Then, for fun, I'll sometimes do a bust sketch to help me visualize him/her.

Have a great week, all! ♥

February 20, 2012

Outlining: Start Big and Work Down to the Details

This week, I will (hopefully) be working on the outline for my WIP. So how do I start? Well, first, I answer these three questions:

1. What does the protagonist want?
2. What does the antagonist want?

The answers to these should naturally be at odds with each other. Each of their goals, independent of each other, can be as innocuous or grand as you want so long as they conflict.

3. How does the book end? (the climax)

Yep, I like to know how the book will end before I start outlining. Keep in mind, by this point, I'll have already finished world-building and character sheets. I'll also have jotted down a jumbled mess of ideas for scenes, how something might happen or questions for something that needs to happen, snippets of dialogue, character arcs, and what not--all of which are dependent upon knowing what my protag+antag want and where the book needs to go.

So, really, it's more just reorganizing those thoughts into something linear and coherent, because those questions will have already been answered in the plotting and world-building stage.

Some writers, pantsers and plotters alike, prefer to write without knowing how events will play out, instead letting their characters guide them. I'm not one of those =P With my first manuscript, I started writing not knowing how it would end or where it was going, and as noted in a previous post, it took me a year and a half to fix the mess.

It's essential for me to know how the story ends, because I use it to build the rest of the book. Every action and every piece of information must have a purpose—everything must work together to move the characters toward that end so that, when the plot twists happen and the climax settles, the reader will sit back and go 'I didn't see that coming... but I should have!'

However, even though I know how it ends, I don't yet know HOW the characters or the story led to it. Right now, I have a vague image in my head of the ending scene for this WIP, as well as some pieces of dialogue and character motivations, but that's about it. And for now, that's all I need.

So! I start by answering those 3 vital pieces of information. Once that's done, then I determine another piece—the reversal.

Within each scene, within every step forward into the story, there should ideally be some sort of minor reversal—conflict, questions, roadblocks popping up to impede your protag and maintain tension. But the one I'm talking about is the BIG one. It's not the climax, but it's something that completely upsets the hero's world thus far, something that either forces them to change or alters their goal.

To figure out what this should be, I answer these questions:

1. What does the protag believe s/he has to do in order to achieve her goal?
2. What does the antag do to completely ruin it?
(in most instances, this would coincide with the antag's goal as well)

The reversal is the point in the story when the protag believes s/he's almost achieved his/her goal, only to come up against a brick wall and must now back up and regroup.

Example: when Frodo completes his task to deliver the ring to Rivendell and finds himself with an even greater and more treacherous journey to undertake. Or when Will Grayson (lowercase will) goes to [SPOILER!SPOILER!] meet his online boyfriend in person and is devastated to learn he was never real, resulting in crossing paths with the other Will and the life altering entity that is Tiny Cooper.

As I said in a previous post, an outline is a map. Having answered all the questions above, I now know where my final destination is and what stops I need to make along the way. All that's left is to plot my route, to figure out how to get from point A to point B to point C. This is where I start filling in details and fleshing out the world, when I REALLY get to play with the ideas I first jotted down while world building.

And this is also where I totally confuse you guys—the details can and will change your ending and/or reversal. And that's okay! The point is that you started with a plan. How things happen, why they happen, and character arcs along the way—these things SHOULD affect the overall story and major plot points.

But to find those details and really make them work for the story, I first have to start with the bigger picture.

So there you have it. That's how I outline and, hopefully, that's what I will be doing this week.

If you catch me on tumblr, please yell at me!

Have a great week! ♥

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