Okay, this is going to be another short post. Alayna, the baby, and I are all home. As you know if you’ve been reading for a while, Alayna and I use pseudonyms on here, and I’m sure that we’ll use one for the baby as well, but we haven’t talked about what that will be yet. So, for know he’s still just ‘the baby.’ He’s cute as can be, and he’s very calm and well-behaved. He likes to walk, and so when he does get fussy generally walking him around will calm him down very quickly. That being said, he rarely gets fussy unless he’s hungry, wet, or very lonely/bored. Honestly, with a Ph.D. program coming up, this has been a huge blessing!
I can’t quite explain how this little guy has affected me except to say that nothing else seems to matter quite as much as it did before he was born. I’m still looking forward to the Ph.D. program, hoping to get published, loving the new computer, struggling with the diet/exercise program and the sleep therapy, etc. None of the important things in my life have changed… but at the same time all of them have changed. The baby has given me a little perspective (which was probably desperately needed) about what is most important. Reading, writing, teaching, publishing, the blog, etc are still important to me. I see value in all of them, and I hope to be used to advance God’s will in the world through all of them, but he matters more (well, not more than God, but more than all of the stuff I just mentioned).
I’ve read about how new parents take one look into their child’s face and ‘know’ that they will do anything for that child. Honestly, I always wondered if this wasn’t exaggerated some, and at the moment I’m sure that it probably is–but when I look into the baby’s face I know that I’ll do anything to help him know the father and grow up to live a life worth living, and even if he doesn’t, I know that I’ll love him and do my best to help him be better anyway. I’m not really sure how else to say it– Alayna says that he already has me wrapped around his little finger, which is probably true.
Every character, whether Ebenezer Scrooge or Lord Voldemort, begins somewhere. Sometimes a character starts out as little more than a name, other times the body of the character is present long before the name. Many characters will never see the light of day – for instance, I have over two hundred characters created for the novel A Rose ‘Ere Blooming that I am working on, I will be very surprised if even a quarter of them make it into the actual book – and it is always sad to let one go. There are as many ways to create, develop, and write characters as there are authors, and every one of you is going to find his or her own style. However, I want to share with you two general methods that can be used to in creating a character. The first of these I call the Natural Method, and the second the Ordered Method. It should be noted that neither of these techniques is innately superior, and that I make use of both in my own writing (and expect that many other authors do so as well). However, it is likely that one of these methods will be a better fit either for you as an author, or for the particular character that you are working on. So, here are the basics.
The Natural Method: The Natural Method for creating literary characters follows no particular progression. Instead the character is ‘born’ naturally in your mind and allowed to develop at its own pace. This can be a very slow process as you will have to let the character develop at its own pace, without significant intrusion on your part as an author. This may sound to you like treating the character as a living person, and that is exactly the case. In the natural method the character is generally treated (to a realistic degree) as a living, breathing person that dwells within your mind.
The Ordered Method: The Ordered Method for creating literary characters, unlike the Natural Method, follows a more specific progression from orginal concept to developed character. Instead of treating the character like a real person, this method tends to see it more like a construction project – building the foundation first, and then moving on to frame, walls, roof, wiring/plumbing, and finally dressing. This method tends to be faster than the natural method, and can often create very real characters, however sometimes charactes built through the ordered method feel forced and unnatural.
So, how do you begin?
The Natural Method: Starting a character in the Natural Method means waiting for an idea. Remember that you can’t for this, you need a character that is real and alive, which means that he has to be born. Some tips – spend a lot of time thinking about your character, not specifically, but in general. Treat the character like an infant in the womb, instead of deciding what the character will be, ask what he could be. Instead of giving him red hair, wait to see what kind of hair he has when he comes out. Go to places or events that inspire you, read authors you love, watch shows that get your juices flowing. In all things, let it happen, instead of making it happen. Dream, imagine, ponder, even pray – all of these things will add to the gestation process of the character. It is important that you not start out with specific goals in mind for the character. If you need this character to be a soldier, or a thief, or a lawyer, then you are better off using the Ordered Method to create the character. The Natural Method will allow the character to become what he wants to be, instead of deciding what he must be. When your character does finally begin to coalesce, treat him gently. If you push to hard at this stage, or try to force your will, then the character will whither and die. You need to think of the character as a newborn infant that needs gentle nurturing. Be proud that he has Antonio Banderas’ chin from Mask of Zorro, and Liam Neeson’s eyes from Taken. Be happy that he has a firm grip, or that he is obviously curious, but if you tell him that he has to be a doctor because your novel desperately needs one – well, he might just disappear on you. Most importantly, give your character a name. Giving him a name will make him real…and you need something to call him.
The Ordered Method: Unlike the Natural Method, a concept is the first thing you need in the Ordered Method. The Ordered Method demands a basic starting point, however this starting point can be as general or specific as you want it to be. The place you start could be as brief as ‘an old martial artist,’ or as specific as ‘a young thief who is in love with a young woman, and whose father has trained him to never hurt anyone and only steal from those who can afford the loss.’ Regardless of how detailed you concept it, you must have a concept to begin an ordered character – no concept, no character. Once you have a place to start you need to spend some time thinking about what the character needs in order to fill your basic concept. For instance, you need a martial artist, well that martial artist had to be trained somewhere. Once you have your basic concept start making a list of questions that must be answered about your character. Some of these questions will be obvious – is the character male or female? Where did the character grow up? What is the character’s primary motivation? Other questions will be important only to the specific character – what martial art did the character learn? Who taught the character? Has the character ever fought for money? For fame? Is the character comfortable killing people? Once you have a good list of questions (fifteen is a good start, though you will add more later), then you are ready to begin answering them. More on that in the next post.