A Different Characterization-- Defining Who We Are by What We Do

Oct 16, 2013

One of the hardest things about my most recent book has been my main character. It's not like she's a pain in the butt or anything. Though, to be honest, she could have been a pain in the butt and I just didn't know it. That was my problem: I had no idea who this character was. And it's pretty freaking hard to write a story when you've got no idea who it's about.

I have a typical process for my characters. I usually have a general idea of who they are, based on the story concept. So I spend a little while going places and trying to see the world how they would see it. This usually gives me tons of character fodder, which I then use to write out a very detailed character information sheet. Backstory, favorite food, character traits, it's all there.
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But this girl. Seryn. I had nothing. I couldn't even form an entirely coherent outline for the plot, because how could I know what she would do if I didn't know her?

Then I had an idea.

What if I played this one backwards? Instead of figuring out who she was, and then deciding what she would do, I would return to my pantser roots (kind of). I had a detailed world, a fleshed-out magic system, themes that meant a lot to me, and a general idea of where the story was going to go. I would start writing, and throw out some conflicts. Give Seryn some choices, and think about all the possible decisions someone could make in that situation.

Her choices would tell me who she was. Once I knew what she would do, then I could fill out my character sheet about why she would do that. I guess it hasn't been an exact return to my pantser roots. I've got a sort of structure where I know some of the key conflicts and choices, and then I'm let Seryn decide where to go from there. And it's SO FREAKING FUN.

I love discovering who she is. I love finding new conflicts that are stemming from her choices. I love playing with a new story and a new character in a new way. After all, if who we are is defined by what we do, what better way of developing a character is there?

So, my friends, how do you approach characterization? What are your techniques? How have they changed from book to book?

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