Hello my lovelies,
hope you’re all okay and have been enjoying these writing tips – I’ve certainly had lots of fun writing them and the comments/likes have been lovely 🙂 In the last post, I talked about constructing your story. Now we get to the heart of it – characters.
For me, it’s hard to define what comes first – characters or conflict. The two are intertwined. Your character’s goal will normally help form the basis of your plot. But then do you: –
– Create your characters first, followed by deciding what conflicts will occur for them, both internal and external, with the conflict arising directly from their personality? i.e. their likes, dislikes, upbringing, values, life experiences
– Do you decide what the conflicts will be first and then build your characters around them, deciding what personality traits and life experience will support that kind of conflict?
Let me give you an example…
Starting with conflict
The idea for my debut novel, Crazy, Undercover, Love which is a romance set over a long weekend in Barcelona, literally came to me in a dream. Yes, I know how it sounds! But I had this visual of a couple stranded in a room together, unable to get away from each other, alternatively arguing and then falling in love. For some reason, the hero was really angry with the heroine.
I woke up and jotted some ideas down, and knew that the external conflict was going to come from them working together closely over a few days (therefore unable to get away from each other) and from the actions of a secondary character. I also decided that for the internal conflict, the heroine was going to be trying to achieve something that might seem deceitful and dishonest i.e. make the hero hate her, and that she was really uncomfortable with. He was going to have an internal conflict around women in the workplace (no, he’s not a sexist pig, he just doesn’t like romance at work!) It was also going to be a bit of a comedy of errors.
After some time and thought I built a plot, fleshing out the conflicts fully based on the main character’s goal and what led her to need to achieve that goal. Once I had that, I started working on my characters. What kinds personality traits would cause them to clash, but also help each other learn different ways of looking at the world? What kind of man would my heroine Charley be looking for (if she was looking, which she absolutely wasn’t at the start of the book, being fiercely independent), and what kind of man would really rub her up the wrong way? And what about Alex? What kind of person would he warm to, or dislike on sight? What background would he need to give him such a strong sense of pride and responsibility? What might have happened to him to give him such a skewed view of the world? What kind of traits would Charley need to have to give the book the slight ‘comedy of errors’ feel?
Starting with Character
For my #LoveLondon novella, Strawberries at Wimbledon, I had the title and of course the setting, but nothing else in terms of plot, goals etc. What I did have a strong sense of was a headstrong character called Rayne who was a bit off the wall and slightly rebellious. I could fully picture her at uni in a short skirt and tight top, reluctantly making friends, falling for a boy called Adam who was very different from her. I knew that she was who I wanted to write a story about next.
So I got to know her better, and from her background, upbringing, the things she’d been through and therefore what she craved most (stability) I decided what Adam was going to be like and teach her, and how the two of them might meet again when they were older. That lead me to why they might have broken up in the first place, and what might have changed in the meantime, and from all of that grew the conflicts. So in that way, the conflict came from the characters themselves.
Personally, I’m not sure which way round is better, and I switch between either one depending on the book I’m writing 🙂 How about you?
One thing is for sure; without characters, we’d be lost. Even if you have an amazing idea for a book and a well paced, interesting plot, you need your characters to act as the linchpins of your story. Everything they do, say and think must drive the story forward. So it’s really important to know them when you sit down to write. Again, depending on personal preference, you may build full character bio’s (if you’re a plotter) or you may just ‘know’ your characters in your head and let them act out their own scenes, and determine their own fate as you write (if you’re more of a pantster). It’s entirely up to you. Personally, I outline character bio’s on index cards or as a part of a visual storyboard. I’m not suggesting I need to know each character’s inside leg measurement before I get started, but I do need some idea of at least half of the following: –
- Age (plus date of birth – month and year)
- Name (this is SO important; although I have changed character names halfway through books before if I think they’re not working!)
- Location i.e. where were they born? Where do they live now?
- Upbringing i.e. class, heritage, culture etc
- Living situation – do they live alone, or with family or friends?
- Friendship circle
- Have they got children? Do they want children?
- Romantic relationships i.e. dating history
- Occupation & employment status
- Likes and dislikes i.e. cat vs dog, films, books, music, TV, driving, food, drink
- Appearance – just a few details i.e. eye colour, hair colour, body build (unless they are especially clear in my head)
- How do they like to dress?
- Values and beliefs – are they honest or liars, do they treat people respectfully or not give a damn, are they risk takers or do they sail close to the wind, do they work hard or play hooky? Are they law-abiding citizens?
- Personality – confident, shy, brash, humble, arrogant, optimistic, pessimistic, detail-oriented or visionary, selfish or selfless?
- Significant life experiences i.e travel abroad or no travel at all, bereavements, illnesses, weddings, divorce etc
What about you? Is there anything you’d add to the character bio? And what do you think comes first – conflict or character? Would love to hear your thoughts!
Until next time, happy reading and writing,
Love, Nikki x