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:
- Write a job description. I don’t always do a complete job description; characters in fantasies often don’t have jobs that lend themselves to formal job descriptions. For any contemporary story, it’s easy to do. I take the headings from my own RL job description and I write it in formal job-speak.
- A journal entry or synopsis of ‘A Day in the Life of…’ or ‘The Best/Worst Time of my Life’. I usually work in summaries but a first person journal entry is really useful in getting to know the personality and voice of a character. The examples are from one I did while planning Warrior Pledge. They’re Rim’s memories, particularly of the day his wife died (she was Petra originally, but her name was changed later). I’ve given you Rim’s memories as they’re an example of research that was done that never made it into the book but was still necessary for the characterisation.
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/