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The Character Sketch. Some writers swear by it, others never use it. Still others have their own variation. But is any one of those variations better than another? Like most things when it comes to writing, I think it’s a matter of personal choice – of what works best for you.
Whether or not I use any kind of character-building exercise depends a lot on the kind of book I’m writing, and how complicated the plot line is. When I’m writing in only one or two points of view, I spend so much time in my characters’ heads that I often don’t need to do separate sketches of them – as long as (and here’s the caveat!) their goals, motivations, and conflicts are clear.
At times when GMC is a little on the hazy side, I’ve learned that I need to set aside the story and dig a little deeper. Even then, however, my process remains relatively informal and doesn’t follow any kind of a set format. Instead of listing traits (favorite colors, foods, etc.) or interviewing a character, I put myself firmly inside his/her head and write a first-person monologue. I begin by stating name and occupation, and then let the words flow from there.
By allowing my characters to tell their own stories in their own words, I gain huge insight into what makes them tick. Tidbits of history might surface that result in an “aha” moment (her kid brother put a snake into her sleeping bag on a camping trip? So that’s why she hates snakes so much!). Personality traits come out, back-story deepens, and before I know it, the issues of goal, motivation and conflict have cleared themselves up.
Will this method always work for me? Perhaps...and perhaps not. I may find a character one day who is so taciturn and uncommunicative that only the formal “sit down and answer my questions, damn it!” approach will work. The important thing to remember, I think, is that no matter how you achieve it, getting to know your characters at least as well as you know yourself is tantamount to a solid, believable story.
Gwyn Jacobs doesn’t believe in happy-ever-after.
Ever since her ex-husband walked out four years ago, abandoning her with a toddler and infant twins, Gwyn has been mother, father, and bread-winner all rolled into one. Her own scarred heart and failed marriage aside, she is determined not to open up her children’s lives to the possibility of another heartbreak...until her very own fairy tale falls into her lap -- and the hero won’t take no for an answer!