I have a planning process for writing. It usually begins several weeks before I begin writing and one of my favorite parts is character planning. I love creating people and giving them hopes, dreams, and their own particular brand of neuroses. Creating a person from scratch often entails a lot and I find that the following helps me organize my process and create a well-planned, well-rounded character.
For each person in my story, I make a character card. I use the giant index cards for this.
1. The name usually comes to me first. I then go through and check several things
• Does the name meaning reflect my character’s personality and country of origin? If my character is going to talk about her strong ties to her family’s Spanish roots, I may not want to choose the name Davina O’Flannigan. Baby name sites are extremely helpful for name meanings. Some of my favorites are: http://www.behindthename.com/ and http://www.babynames.com/
• Does the name flow easily off the tongue? Depending on what I’m writing, chances are, I’m going to be writing and saying this character’s name a lot. Is it a name that trips up my tongue when I say it or my eyes when I write it? (I realize this does not apply to every genre of writing – science fiction names are definitely excluded from this step!)
• Is the name appropriate for the setting? If my setting is in Kansas in the 1920s, I might not choose a name like Brynn or Tristan, which have a more modern ring to them. I often check out the lists provided on http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/babynames/#ht=1 which show the most popular baby names by year going back to 1879 in the United States.
2. Then, I go on the search for a picture. If I could draw, this would be an easy step, but because I would like more than a stick figure on my index card, I start trolling Google images. I type in key words to come up with some photos of people to look at and then I start scrolling through. It takes awhile and sometimes yields some very interesting results, but I usually find what I’m looking for. I print it out, cut out the thumbnail and then tape it to my character card. (In my example above, this picture of Shia LaBeouf was perfect for my character, Calvin.)
3. Once I have the name and the picture, I start planning the personality. One place I start with is the person’s zodiac sign. I like this site a lot: http://www.astrology.com.au/astrology/12-signs-of-the-zodiac/ as it gives a lot of detailed information as well as a quick guide at the top of each astrological sign. Once I pick a sign, I assign the character a birthday and write it on the character card.
4. Last, I fill out several character questions and really get to know my character. I have my own character planning sheet that I have developed from a mishmash of different sources, but a good beginning worksheet for this is from Book in a Month by Victoria Lynn Schmidt and appears on the Writer’s Digest website at http://d3k9gxxxyh3lif.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/30Days-Character-Sketch.pdf Once I have the character planned, I place the information on my character card and fit as many notes as possible on the card for quick reference while I’m writing.
I’m not a published writer. I’m not even sure I’m a good writer. But, I am a writer and I have a process. And, if sharing my process makes someone else’s journey a bit easier, well, that’s pretty cool.