Sneaking up on Character

I have mentioned elsewhere that I am not a natural character writer. I think I’ve gotten fairly good at character development, but it really is something I’ve had to work very hard at and will continue to work at because I know that it requires major processing for me, unlike say plot or world building. Which of course means that I spend considerable time thinking about the subject. This post was part of a discussion I’d been having on another blog which I thought worth sharing here.

One of the funny things about my difficulties with characer is that I’m actually a people person and an extrovert. I enjoy and am energized by social situations. I tend to make friends easily and to be pretty good with empathy and with understanding how the people around me are going to react to my actions and words. So, it’s not human results that I have trouble with in character building, it’s human motivations. And that’s where another of the funny things comes in. I didn’t realize that I had a problem with motivations until I left acting for writing and ended up with a lot of first readers telling me that what I was writing wasn’t how real people think.

I discovered that there all sorts of things that any number of people do or believe for reasons that I simply can’t figure out by starting from my own base assumptions and understanding of how the world works, things that only make sense to me if I consciously create a thought experiment in which I alter the foundations of what I think of as personal logic. Instead of true sense-making I just try to figure out an internal emotional consistency for a character and then work backward to find a belief structure that would support their actions.

Whether I’m actually anywhere close to creating a good model for what’s going on in real people’s heads is on open question, but the method allows for fairly successful character modeling, and I’m now more likely to get complimented on character than roasted.

(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog November 15 2006 and comments can be found there—Reposted as part of the reblogging project, and edited for clarity)