You know where your characters have come from and what has made them the person they are, but what are they doing now and why does it need to change?
Creating a character’s present life is about more than deciding on a job or home for them to live it. You need to know what it is about their life that needs to change. That’s the purpose of your story, isn’t it? Either there’s something about their life that isn’t working and things need to change to make it right, or something happens in the world around them that forces things in their life to change and they need to make it right again.
There are a number of things you can do to get to know what your character’s present is really like. These are some of the things I do:
Goal, Motivation, Conflict (GMC)
Knowing the character’s past and present will give you exactly what you need to know to be able to write your story. Knowing what your character wants, why they want it, and what’s stopping them from getting it provides plot, setting and characterisation all rolled into a couple of easy sentences. Every character will have a compelling GMC, either internal or external. Your primary characters will have both.
I generally write a character’s GMC in two different ways: in a table and in a sentence. I use both for different reasons. I’m a visual learner so I like to have things written down or in diagrams or mind maps. I don’t use mind maps very often because they feel too chaotic for me to keep track of. I prefer to use sentences, lists and tables. GMC works really well in tables and sentences.
The table allows me to ensure I have all the necessary elements of a GMC addressed. All the boxes have to be completed. The sentences written from the table let me check that both internal and external GMC make sense, are logical, reasonable and believable.
The examples given are for Jonah from The Planet Whisperer.
See also: https://au.pinterest.com/eemontgomery11/goal-motivation-and-conflict/
I always need to know more about my characters than what ends up in the story. It’s how I know how they’ll react to different situations and how they respond to other people.
There are a number of different ways you can make sure you have all the information you need about a character so that when you’re writing him/her, they feel real. These are the three I use most often:
Even though there are loads of templates online, that doesn’t mean you have to use one of them. You can create your own. Decide what you need to know and write down the headings. You don’t even have to put them into a list. Create a mind-map or a pyramid, or some other visual device. If you’re particularly artistic, you could create a collage of your character’s face from nouns and adjectives that describe them.
Some websites and software you might find useful when creating character profiles:
Word, Excel, Visio, Access (If you have a particularly analytical mind and love linked tables and SQL queries as much as I do, a database is a great way of keeping track of character interactions and links between characters and plot points. It takes a while to set up but you can copy the setup over to different stories once it’s done. I’d share a completed one with you but I lost them in my last computer crash ☹).
Also, have a look at these:
Characters are the people in your story. They're what your readers identify with and relate to. There are several things your characters need to do or have to be believable, so that your readers can relate to them and feel empathy for them. The things I'm going to list are in no particular order; I'll list them as I think of them.
Background: Every character has had a life before the beginning of the story. The things that have happened to them and the things they have done have all contributed to the person they are now. Most of their background won't make it into the story, but you need to know all of it. You never know what sorts of things will influence a reaction to a crisis.
Present: Every character also needs a full life that they're living in the present. They have work, leisure, friends, frenemies and enemies. They have political opinions and morals and values. They have people in their lives that they love, and ones they hate. No person is an island, isolated and just waiting to be filled with purpose during the course of your story. They already have a purpose; it might not be the one they really want.
GMC (Goal, Motivation, Conflict): This is one of the difficult things to do. Every character has both internal GMC and external GMC. The internal GMC is influenced by their background. External GMC arises from their present and who is in their life right now. A character can have more than one internal GMC and more than one external GMC, but there must be one of each that have to be fulfilled for your character to feel they've reached the point in their life where they've realised their potential and can be happy.
You might have noticed I haven't mentioned physical appearance. To me, that isn't so important. It's also something that's going to be influenced by the other things. For example, if your character's present includes being an active member at a gym, then s/her is going to have a certain type of physique. If their past was violent (domestica abuse, military, etc), they'll probably have scars. Let their appearance grow out of their experiences, then add the superficial pieces like hair and eye colour.
Over the next few weeks, I'll look more closely at each of these things and share with you some of the things I do to build my characters.
Last week is discussed ways in which plants can be created and used in your story.
I’ve discussed in previous posts the Norrgel I created for Warrior Pledge. They’re a great example of an animal/bird that is used to show character as well as setting, and also adds tension to the story.
I’m not going to talk about obvious animals like horses or cows, cats, dogs, etc. most people know about them. They’re convenient for providing modes of transport, sources of food or comfort, or magical foci. Sometimes the names are changed, sometimes some part of the anatomy is changed, but generally the animals are recognisable for what they are, and the have a purpose.
I keep thinking about a threat that comes from an unexpected and unseen source. Bacteria has been done to death, and it can be difficult to remove a mystical element from it in a society that has no scientific knowledge. I wanted something that could be seen with the naked eye, yet hidden until it’s almost too late to do anything about it.
I still haven’t decided what to call it, whether it’s animal or insect, but it’s a parasite.
In my mind, it came from observing fruit flies—the way the buzzed around my apricot tree when the fruit was forming, the small black dots that indicated an attack, the wriggling writhing mess the larvae made of the insides of the fruit even though all you could see until the fruit was opened were those small black dots.
After I’d read enough about fruit flies, I started reading about tape worms. Interesting stuff.
This is what I finally came up with:
“Stand back.” Claudio moved to the centre of the clearing, away from the flower. “I’ll show you what’s causing it.”
Nero moved to stand beside Claudio and watched as he tossed the twig at the flower. The sharp point ripped the stem of the flower open.
Nero gagged at the sight but was unable to tear his gaze from the writhing mass that was released from the flower.
Slowly the mass spread out from the confines of the flower stem, separating to show it was a single, long worm. The pointed end raised itself slightly from the ground and waved from side to side as if searching for something. Nero was so mesmerized by the swaying motion that he didn’t notice it was moving closer to him until Claudio bumped him out of the way.
He watched in horror as, instead of attacking him, the worm changed direction slightly and dove at another flower. The pointed head of the worm pierced the soft flower stem and began wriggling inside. Nero grabbed a stick from the ground and smashed it against the worm. The parasite broke but the short piece still embedded in the flower continued to wiggle, eventually disappearing into it completely.
Nero backed away from newly infected plant.
“That happens every time the worm outgrows a plant. It would have split spontaneously if you didn’t hit it. Every time another plant is infected, another worm is created. I’ve heard reports that the worm attacks people in the same way. The larger the worms grow, the farther they can jump toward prey.” As they watched, the larger worm, released from the flower burrowed into the soil.
Claudio grasped his arm. “Come. We have to get out of here. It’s gone underground. There’s no telling where it’ll come up again. It could be searching for us.”
Nero allowed himself to be tugged away. “What about the flower?”
“It’s too late for it. The worm will infest it, growing, absorbing all of its body from the inside. When there are no more nutrients to suck out of it the shell of the stem will explode and the worm will move on to the next host.”
E E Montgomery
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