I have been working on a series-fiction character for two years now. I have rewritten the story many times and each time I start I think about the approach- should I do in-depth character studies? Should I write it as it happens and figure out as I go?
I always thought preparing for a long time, interviewing my characters and writing about their features and likes and dislikes will take away the pleasure of discovering it. I always get put off by the lists, the interview questions, the forms that are available on the Internet to do character studies.
But this time I had to do it. My writing mentor Tony Bradman at Golden Egg Academy, said I need to know my characters in depth and I should spend time on the preparation so the writing is more focused. My groan must have echoed through the city if not muffled by the constant noise of engineering works on the tracks near my flat.
So how does one plan a character for a series fiction for children? Most character trait charts and interview questions were aimed at fiction for adults. Some were genre specific like world building for science fiction and fantasy. I decided to start with the hint that Tony had given me – think about why sitcoms like “Malcolm in the Middle” and “Big Bang Theory” work? They are comedies, they are situational, but are heavily character based.
So that’s where I started. I trawled through episode guides of my favourite character-sitcom – Big Bang Theory. I studied the tropes that feature in popular sitcoms. That gave me the basics of how characters should be structured and why these characters have to be exaggerated.
Then I studied the basics of writing a character based sitcom. What goes into? Why is the character important and why does everything has to centre around the character traits.
That gave me the basics. But I still needed to know more about my characters. So, firstly, I decided what I wanted to know about each characters. I trawled through many character study charts and synthesized what I wanted for a young fiction. I created my own character chart (which you can see here). But again, I was bored filling in a chart with traits. I didn’t think it would wake up my creative spirit. I wanted something playful, something fun and something I could enjoy doing.
After a lot of pondering, trials of form-filling and trying out various things, I decided I liked to brainstorm about my characters using the questions. The questions are the guide but the responses won’t be in the form. I would reflect the character’s personality in my character study notebook.
Oh yes, I needed a chance to buy new drawing notebooks. I can’t draw at all – but this exercise made me so adventurous – I started using colours, speech bubbles and all sorts of drawing and pictures. Some I tried to draw using websites that showed me how to draw and some I cut and pasted in my notebook.
I had discovered my most productive form of creating characters. I was able to have fun, confuse the person sitting next to me in the pub and use all the stationery I had in the house.
So there was one notebook for the main character, another for the kids who are part of the main character’s life and then the adults in a separate notebook. What fun!
Then when I thought I had reached my personal heaven, guilt crept up on me. I wasn’t writing. I was playing. Is that good? Am I wasting time? Is this all going to be of any help when I write? I hadn’t written for 4 weeks, working on 6-7 characters, plot ideas, research on background, dogs, cats and all sorts of related things.
Oh and I listened to loads of youtube songs figuring out what songs my characters would like, watched cartoons and worked out what my adventure holiday camp would entail. It was loads of fun!
I went to Facebook SCBWI group for help. I fretted that I was going to squander away my part-time life. That’s when it hit me and was also advised of the same thing in the Facebook poll – write vignettes, write short essays about the characters. Yes, that would work. That would help me focus on the writing, allow me to experiment with voice and also with tense.
But what should I write? That’s when WritingMaps came to my rescue. I had bought a whole pack of them a few months ago and one of the maps was about characters.
So on a train to Lille in Paris, at 7 in the morning, I unfolded the map in the train and started to write character episodes for my characters.
That definitely made me feel better- but something else happened. I discovered more things about my characters than I had known before.
This could become a habit – the avoiding of writing doing character studies and vignettes and colouring and drawing and doodling. That’s kind of what David Almond said in a recent masterclass I went to – have fun, doodle, scribble – don’t worry about having fun!
Soon the writing will start and I will report back on how I used the character studies and all the brainstorming I did.