A lot of time is spent in this eFile addressing the issue of creating characters. Simply put, they carry the plot to its conclusion. What you create is important and deserves to have the right actors in the storyline. How much time and how much detail should a writer spend to flesh these folk out? Novice writers in too big a hurry to write their story will not like the answer. A lot.
As always, I begin a new story by selecting characters that might fit into the rough plot. To accomplish this, I use several forms. Despite having some experience, I like to spend a few hours at least one day each week researching and reading what other authors have to say—and there is a lot of stuff said out there. In this garden are numerous list of questions and suggestions for fleshing out a character. By picking and choosing, I create questionnaires that are meaningful to me, so that these “creation” forms come from my ideas and from those of other individuals.
The first form I turn to is based on the work of Melanie Phillips of “Storymind” (http://storymind.com/) who has an experienced finger on what makes a story successful. To start, there are eight characters: Protagonists, Antagonist, Guardian, Contagonist, Reason, Emotion, Sidekick, and Skeptic. With the rough plot in hand and this list, ideas of how to shape scenes come to mind—often effecting the storyline in ways one may not have initially considered.
Melanie has released a video about these eight characters that is an absolutely fascinating way to go about defining these roles. (http://storymind.com/blog/character-development-tricks-3/). She suggests new ways to look at a project that could change and drive a story in very different and intriguing directions, and still accomplish the goal. For instance, in the photograph below, would you have chosen those particular actors to fill the assigned role based on expressions? An adult protagonist and teenage antagonist? A green-behind-the-ears guardian?
Once these major characters are populating their chairs, I move on to the next phase. Who are these people? Really? Some questionnaires venture into the stratosphere, but by paring down it is possible to make the number of questions more manageable and pertinent. The form I eventually settled on has thirty-one points that basically develop backstory of where each comes from and where they want to go. Don’t expect this part to be a down and dirty exercise. Along with a character sketch and the general direction you want the story to go, expect to spend several hours for each one, visualizing how they will interact with the other characters and the plot. This will foster new ideas that help the original storyline to become richer in it’s telling.
Back in September I suggested that those intending to attempt the National November Writing Month (NaNoWriMo or just NaNo) should begin then—thinking, mentally visualizing, researching, picking a cast, researching, and making notes or outlines. There are many, many people who start NaNo and never finish because they don’t prepare and hit a stone wall. Yes, “pansters” can succeed, but the successful ones are far and few between. The more forethought put into a project, the easier it is to write and better the story.