Thursday, June 2, 2011

Developing Characters- How Do I Make My Characters Unique

Developing Characters- How Do I Make My Characters Unique?
presented by Barbara Ehrentreu

Hi everyone. My name is Barbara Ehrentreu and my young adult novel, If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor, is going to be published in September by MuseItUp Publishing. When I first started writing I didn't know how to develop a good character and until I met Paula Danziger, who introduced me to this method of character development, I had no idea of a character wheel and how it could be used. I hold a Masters in Reading and Writing K-12 and I have taught over 17 years. Much of my knowledge has been amassed during workshops and conferences. Please try using the character wheel. I am referring you to a few examples I found on the web:

The workshop will concentrate on building a character who will be able to keep your interest throughout your book.
1. What are the aspects of a good character
2. How can building good characters help you move your plot line?
3. Developing secondary characters

1. What are the aspects of a good character?

a) You will learn to use a character wheel to flesh out your character.
Each workshop participant will create a new character using the character wheel.

The easiest way to do this is to ask yourself a few questions. The first is of course is your character a male, female or perhaps an animal or supernatural being. The second is to figure out where this character lives and the age. Once you have those things think about what this character does. I will use the example of my own character for you.

When I started thinking about her I wanted her to be a high school student, a freshman. She lived in a small town in Westchester, NY. From there I could add in other things about her.

Continuing with the character wheel. You put the name of your character in the middle. In the spaces between the spokes you write a heading: Description, Place where she lives, Parents and occupation or relatives or spouse or caregiver (any of these can be put here depending on the character and the relationship), friends, and finally the most important is Things she likes to do.

b) Identifying the main goal of your character
After you have placed all of the character's traits and information on your character wheel you can decide what your character's goal will be.
From these you can get an idea of what her goal might be. Using Things your character like to do, figure out the most important thing for your character. What does she or he want to do most in the whole world? What would she or he give up anything to do? It has to come from the gut or it won't be believable.

c) Using your main character's goal to plot your story
Once you know what your character really wants you can begin to plot your story with the character's goal always in your mind.

At this point anyone who wants to try can start figuring out your plot line. If you aren't ready to go on, then I suggest you work on your character's goal or goals a little more. This is probably the most important part of character development.

Workshop participants will get a chance to write a short one paragraph plot using what your already know about your character.
Anyone who wants to post their character's traits in a short paragraph is invited to do this now. There are not going to be any critiques at this point, because you are just experimenting. If you are happy with your character and can write a paragraph you are ready to start plotting.:)

2. How can building good characters help you move your plot line?

a) As you think about your character's story you will need to build in obstacles.
Using your character and the one paragraph plot you will actually learn to make a rising and falling plot line to create events which will move your story forward.

Once you have immersed yourself in your character's life you will be able to see how your character is going to reach his or her goal. At this point you are going with the What ifs. What if my character wants to be a cheerleader and she can't do a somersault? What is going to happen? What if my character runs into her enemy? What is her enemy like? What will happen because of this? What if my character has a health problem and this affects her? What are the consequences? What if my character finds out a terrible secret? What should she or he do? How does this affect the rest of their life? What if my character finds that going after her goal is alienating her friends? Just keep asking yourself these What if questions until you have the beginning of a plot line.

Now for the pantsers among us, and I am one of them, this process might need to be done after you have finished writing a few chapters. You can write quite a bit without actually thinking of any of these things, but if you want your writing to make sense you might need to do a plot line.

b)You will learn the idea of 3 and how it will help you to plot your story.
The rule of 3 is your character usually needs to encounter 3 obstacles on their way to their goal. Depending on your story you will put these obstacles in their path. Your plot line needs to build to a climax and then as soon as that is resolved your story should end as fast as possible.

3. Developing secondary characters

a) You will learn to use the character wheel to create your secondary characters
Using your secondary characters' identity traits you will be able to flesh out your characters
Make another character wheel for your secondary character or characters. The plot of your secondary character is as important as your main character. These characters need to be believable and they also need to have their own goals.

b) Your secondary characters need to have their own separate plot lines.
Workshop participants will learn to make a plot line for each important secondary character.
So once you have done your secondary character or characters you can start to weave in their stories.

4. Sharing your characters

a) All workshop participants will be able to share their characters with each other in blog comments.

b) Anyone who is interested can submit their plot lines in blog comments.

It is hoped that this workshop will inspire you to use your new character or characters to create a new story. Also, if you want to use an existing character, this process will help you to see your character from another angle.

It is very difficult to go into all the different angles of plotting and this workshop is mainly devoted to character development. So even if you only flesh out your character this is great! Please share your new or improved character with us in the comments.

I am looking forward to meeting all of your new characters and remember this process works for human and other characters as well. The more you get to know your character the better it will come across in your writing and the more the reader will be able to identify with your character.

Okay, now it's your turn.:) Above all please have fun with this! Be playful and go beyond your comfort zone a little.:)


Anonymous said...

Barbara - I've never heard of character wheels before today. Thank you for sharing this character developing technique.
I have a couple characters that might enjoy a ride on the wheel for fuller developement.
Thank you again.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Barbara. Thanks for sharing the links for the character wheels. I've put them in my favorites. I'll start working on a new character today and see what I come up with.

Lisa Forget said...

Wow Barbara! Like Kay Dee, I've never heard of Character Wheels. What a useful and simple tool.
Thank you for sharing this!

jabberingjo said...

Dear Barbara, I needed this! I was told that my character didn't stay in character. That is she was kind of spacey and silly and then turned into serious and sensible. I will try to print this
out and work on it or are you going to post again? I've never participated in an on-line workshop befroe.

Barbara Ehrentreu said...

HI Kay Dee,
I'm looking forward to your new characters. Please post a little bit of them when you are done. The workshop will be up for awhile and open to comments.

Barbara Ehrentreu said...

Susanne, I am also looking forward to seeing your new characters too. Remember when you are using the wheel you can always change anything that doesn't work for you. Good luck!

Barbara Ehrentreu said...

Lisa, I'm so glad this was useful to you. It would be great if you could try it and post your results here when you are finished.

Barbara Ehrentreu said...

jabberingjo, a character wheel will definitely help you to find out about your character. Think of it as an interview and make sure you get all the answers you need to make your character more believable. Your character is fluctuating because you probably didn't develop her goal enough. Once you find out what is driving your character you will see how the story will come together. If you need any help let me know. Since I know you from here you can get me on Facebook as Barbara Ehrentreu or on Twitter @Barbehr. If we are not friends already please friend me.

I won't post again, but the comments are open and please feel free to post what you have written here. I will read them and give my comments if you want any. If you just want to place them here for others to read that is okay too.:)

I don't think there has ever been a Blog Conference before, but in any online workshop you communicate through comments or on a forum through a message board. I'm glad this was helpful to you.

Heather Haven said...

BarbaraE, you know better than most you can never know your characters too well. I've done character wheels but I also like to write out a two or three page backstory for them, plus interviews, asking questions down to their favorite color. What is always wonderful, however, is when you're writing and you think you know where it's all going. Then out of the blue, one of them will leap out and surprise you, doing something unexpected, but totally in character. That's when you know your muse is working. Life is full of surprises, and our characters are a part of this process. It's all such fun, isn't it?

Tanja said...

How interesting! When I worked in a school we used something like it to help children learn how to write stories:
It was a class brainstorming activity, where each child would input suggestions. Thank you for the reminder.

Unknown said...

What an interesting way to develop characters. I guess I'm lucky that my characters come to me fully developed, named, and with a story to tell, but for plotters, this looks like a valuable tool. Great post.

jean hart stewart said...

I'm such a pantser. I generally start a character wheel in my head, but get impatient and go to the story. My character keeps developing in my head, however, Jean

Barbara Ehrentreu said...

Heather, I agree you can never know too much about your character. Unfortunately, I found out more about my character after the story was done. Interviewing her was a great way to see how she thought. That is why I suggest everyone try what Heather suggests. It is very mind opening.

Actually, I had this same thing happen to me in my upcoming book, If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor. I thought she would end up with one character and as I wrote another character I had written for filler suddenly became much more visible and.... You didn't think I would tell you, did you?

zxcvbnm, thank you for the helpful link. A character wheel can also be used to find out more about a character in a story. It is a very helpful reading tool. When I was a reading teacher we used tools like this to help kids understand the story more.

Ginger, you are really special! That's all I can say. Thank you for visiting.:)

jean hart stewart, I am a pantser too, as I mentioned, but occasionally even us pantsers need to delve a little deeper into our characters in a more organized way. I suggest you try it and you might find your characters coming more to life for you before you start to write. You can start writing and then fill in more details as you go. After all you don't really know where your story is going if you are a pantser.

Cellophane Queen said...

In writing a series (especially for kids), the characters have to evolve and change, not only within one book, but across the series.

I'm editing on the second book in my series (which I hadn't looked at in ages) and it's neat to watch my MC grow not only in age, but confidence and skills. Her handling events in book 2 would have been impossible for her in book 1.

Nice write up, Barbara.

Barbara Ehrentreu said...

Thank you, Marva. Do you ever need to use a character wheel?

Tanja said...

zxcvbnm is I (Tanja Cilia) - I had that udentity done for me when I was still working at school, and I don't know how to change it. Well, I did sign my name...

Charlie said...

Hi Barbara,
I too have never heard of the character wheel. I love it! I've done summaries, questions, etc. but this wheel is neat and concise. Will keep the character and all their info at my fingertips as I'm writing. Thanks for sharing it. I'm working on creating the wheel for the secondary character in my sequel to my Secret of the Stones. I put the old villan in jail so now the new villian needs to be fleshed out. I'll pop back in with what I come up with.
C.K. Volnek

Sara Durham Writer ~ Author said...

Barbara, this came at exactly the right time! I was thinking last night, I really need to delve deeper into what is driving my heroine in my current WIP. The more in depth the character is drawn, the richer the emotions and connection to the character for the reader, I think. The wheel is new to me and I like the idea of it. I think I'll try it in the next story.

Thank you again for a great workshop!


Unknown said...

A plethora of information darling...I am taking notes. I ALWAYS learn something new from you...great job and thank you.


Barbara Ehrentreu said...

Charlie, please post a paragraph about your new character. I think everyone would love to see it:)

Barbara Ehrentreu said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mindy Hardwick said...

Thanks Barbara! I've done a lot of different exercises with character, but I've never heard of the character wheel!

BarbaraB said...

Barbara, You've inspired me to create a new character; he's a dog. I had been thinking about him, so now is the time to do it.

Thanks--great workshop.

Jenna Storm said...

Thank you Barbara for the information. I hadn't heard of a character wheel before your workshop. It's so important to have deep characters to keep the reader interested. Thanks again.

Barbara Ehrentreu said...

BarbaraB, I'm so happy you were able to create a new character! I would love to meet him. Please post a little bit.

Denny Juvenile, I'm very happy you discovered the character wheel! It is a great tool and I'm glad you visited the Muse Blog Conference.

Jenna Storm, you're welcome too. I'm very happy to provide this kind of information for you. I am very interested in seeing some of the characters you are all developing.

Wendy said...

Nice post, Barbara. Thank you. Character is such a huge topic. In my wip, I find I have more to record about my villain than I do about my heroine who is quite bland. I have removed her from the story three times already -locking her in an old shed. putting her in hospital and then in jail - all the result of her pursuing her goal. I guess I want the villain to win. hehehe. I was shocked when I realized this. So, now I'm seriously considering allowing my villain to be the main character. :) I'd like my heroine to be more intelligent, but that would mean changing the author, lol. Hang on. The villain is intelligent, so... . It's all too hard. Will develop the secondary characters, for now. :)

Barbara Ehrentreu said...

Wendy, you're welcome! Did you decide this after the workshop? These are the kinds of decisions that happen when you really examine your characters. Possibly you might give your main character more tools to fight this villain. Decide if you really have her goal as too difficult to obtain. Sometimes unattainable goals can be too frustrating. Just a thought:)

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

This is great. Thanks, Barbara.

J.Q. Rose said...

I met with my writers' group this pm and the very strong suggestion from all of them was to show more emotion from my main character in my WIP. Aha...I know the character wheel will help guide me to knowing this character better. Really geeked up to try this. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I think the character wheel is just what I need. I'm more of a plotter, and generally start writing before I know the characters as well as I should. The character wheel would probably save me of time in rewrites.

Thanks a bunch!

Lisa Blackwood.

Charlie said...

Hey Barbara,

fleshed out my character and found some new things out about him using the wheel. This character will be for my MG book SECRET OF THE WOOD. It is the second in the series of THE LOST DIARIES OF NORTHUMBERLAND. My villian in the first book was captured and sent to prison so I had to come up with a new villian for the second book.

Here he is... Carrick McCormick. 27. Rich, spoiled brat. Dad died when he was an infant and mother gave him everything he wanted as a little boy and then sent him to boarding school. He was the bully at school. Very mean. Kids tolerated him because he had money, but Carrick doesn't know how to be a friend. He wants everyone to do for him. Carrick's mother was Winston's sister (Winston is the villian from my first book) and Carrick is upset my MC for getting him caught. Carrick is tall, caucasion, black hair and very good looking (and he knows it.) He has a tick of always clearing his throat. He is also afraid of heights but is an avid swimmer and a very good horseback rider, though he's horrible to animals. He is smart and has a degree in Archaeology as he and his uncle were checking into the power of the sorceress Vivien. He is power hungry and wants her magical artifacts. If he doesn't get his way, he goes beserk and throws temper trantrums.

Thanks for the lesson today! Fun idea to put the character on a wheel and spin them around! I learned a lot about my character and even have two goals for my Carrick. 1. He wants Vivien's magic and will do anything to get it. (This filled in a couple of loop holes in my plotline and added some what-ifs.)
2. Carrick wants revenge for my MC getting his uncle thrown in jail. (More plotline filled out and what ifs escalated.)

So, how do you think I did? I liked it! Can't wait to get to writing it all down now.
C.K. Volnek

Nancy Bell said...

Barbara, you are a treasure! Thanks for this great workshop. I have a couple of characters who will be taking a spin on the wheel sometime in the near future. Time, there is not enough time....


BarbaraB said...

Hi Barbara,
I'm glad your workshop was such a great success.
My new character will be a dog based on one my granddaughter owned. He was a resced greyound racer.
My story will be told from the dog's point of view. I know I want him to be rescued from racing probably because of an injury.He will be mostly white with some black and be very large. He will have a good disposition, but he will be puzzled by his new environment. There will have to be a kid in the family and the two of them will get into scrapes together. I might not have a plot yet, but I do have my MC.

Lin Neiswender said...

Thanks for introducing me to this useful tool!

Beverly said...

Barbara: Thanks for the Character Wheel info. I've never heard of it either. I use the 36 point Character Profile and think the Wheel will help put more character into the character when something unexpected pops up.

Barbara Ehrentreu said...

Joylene, so happy you enjoyed the workshop.:)
I hope you will try it soon.

JQ, how serendipitous that you need the character wheel and here it is for you.:) Please post your new and improved character here.

blackwoodsforest, I think you will find that your characters will gain much more depth and it will help your plot lines too.

Charlie, you get an A+. Your character comes alive in that short paragraph and though he seems like a real nasty sort, I can understand why he is the way he is. Your description shows how deeply you have thought about your character and I like the little quirks you have. He has a fear of heights and throws tantrums. You have his ultimate goal and how he is about to get it. The best is you have the why of the animosity he has toward your MC. I am looking forward to reading this story. Congratulations and you're welcome!

Nancy, I am thrilled I could give you a new tool! You have helped me so much, so I feel very happy I can help you.:) Of course, I'm blushing from your description of me.:) Thank you! It means a a lot from you.

BarbaraB, thank you for sharing your character so far. I think you could go into him a little more deeply. How did he get his injury? What is his injury? Was he in a bad situation before he was rescued? What is his goal? Though he is a dog, he can have very specific goals. But you are on the way to having a great character. He needs to have a few quirks too. Does he limp? Does he have a fear of anything?

Please continue with him and see where you go. You are off to a great start.

Lin, you're welcome and I'm glad you found it useful.

Once again please post your character paragraphs here and I will comment on them. Remember if you think you have your character all developed you need to write a description of the character to see if you left out anything. There is no such thing as a character who is too developed.:) I am looking forward to reading your descriptions. Again you can send them to me on Facebook too. This is for anyone who doesn't want to post it publicly.

Thank you all for your participation and I am very pleased with all of your efforts. Keep going. Don't be afraid to let your characters develop themselves.:)

Anne Duguid Knol said...

Thanks from me too, Barbara. The character wheel is such an interesting tool--deceptively simple but I'm sure it will produce great results. Haven't had time today but will use it for my new WIP and back tracking on my edits for the first book in my romantic suspense series. Just come in the nick of time.

Rosalie Skinner said...

The character wheel sounds like an essential tool. Great workshop.
Anything that helps keep track of character traits is a 'keeper' when writing a series. Thanks.

Barbara Ehrentreu said...

Rosalie, so happy you found this workshop useful! I would think in a series having a touchstone place where you have shown the character's characteristics at the beginning would help a lot. I never thought about it, but a character wheel for each character for each book would show the development of the characters.
You might try this.