Character Studies – The Basics

So I mentioned in a few of my other posts that I do character studies.  I’ll talk a little about this today.

  • Name: This may seem simple but coming up with a name isn’t an easy or trivial thing. I have to take into consideration ease of pronunciation. Other family members, race, part of the world they were born in etc.
  • Appearance: I usually do find a picture to associate with the person so I can keep them straight in my head. Sometimes its going with a famous person (actor or actress for instance) and other times its just doing random internet searches for things like “females in their fifties” or “middle aged women.”
  • Sexuality – this may surprise some people because, historically people in my books have not had sex.  It’s not that I’m opposed to sex, or think that my characters don’t have it. But just as I don’t share my sexual activities with others, my characters really have no reason to share them with the readers.  So while it may not be seen, it can effect people’s behavior. In my current Riyria Revelations series some people pick up on the fact that Lanis Ethelred (former King of Warric and Regent of the New Empire) is homosexual.  I don’t make a “big deal of it” and if people notice, fine, if they don’t that’s fine too – but it does effect how he feels about things like his marriage to become emperor.
  • Sex: I’m sorry to say that females in fantasy have gotten the short shrift. And I think writers are becoming more conscious of this fact and working to address any inequities. I’ll actually cover more of this in another post but I’ve “flipped” the sex of many of my characters in Rhune, and I’m working hard to design the world such that  women can play important roles and do so without becoming either women in men’s bodies or flipping roles by, for instance, making a world matriarchal.
  • Other physical attributes – Amelia is plain and ordinary. Royce is slender and on the small side. These attributes affect how they see themselves and in Royce’s case helps with his chosen profession as a thief and assassin.  But there are other notes I make to remind myself of things. A fairly minor character, Dixon Taft, loses an arm in the Battle of Ratibor – was it the right or the left? Trust me there are fans that will notice if you change it between books so worth nothing.
  • Notes about their pasts:  Lenare Pickering used to practice sword play with her famous brothers Mauvin and Fanen. As she grew older she followed in the footsteps of her mother and declared that swordplay wasn’t a proper pursuit for a woman.  I’m not overly fond of having women sword fight against men and have them victorious (no it’s not misogynistic it has to do with weight and strength), but Lenare does end up picking up a blade and given the training she had, it makes sense that she can hold her own.
  • Goals – are probably the most important thing to make sure you have very clear in your mind, and antagonists have to have goals that make perfect sense and allow them to think of themselves as heroes of their own biographies – No want thinks they are bad or evil.  As this is very important i’ll probably do a whole post on this but for now it’s important to note as one of the primary things about them to keep focused on.
  • Quirks – As mentioned in my last post about outlining, Archibald Ballentyne hates being called “Archie” – why? Well a have a little background history written up in his character profile that I can leverage at some point.  Also as he makes such a big deal about it, others know it and can use it to insult or enrage him.
  • Obsessions – Mauvin Pickering is obsessed with learning sword fighting skills, Magnus the Dwarf is mesmerized by Royce’s dagger Alverstone. Just like goals obsessions will motivate people, usually steering them to bad decisions, if you’ve already established these then readers will seem them as logical…if you don’t they’ll feel it was forced or unrealistic when a person does something we (the readers) know they’ll regret later.

These are the basics, and I’ve got some things in my head I have to get down before I lose them (I’m seriously thinking of changing my opening based on something that happened last night) so I’ll come back at some point with “Character Studies – Advanced” but that should be enough to get people thinking of things for now.

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