The outtakes where characters reveal themselves

I feel like I haven’t written much about my writing recently.

Right now, I am working on scraping together the details for my next story, which is a sci-fi detective adventure. That means it’s going to involve a lot more world-building than the story I just finished and is waiting for feedback and my own critical read-through.

It also means building my characters. I’ve mentioned how I used the Kiersey Temperament Sorter personality test to create a rough description of my characters for the first novel. By going through the test and answering the questions based on what I needed my characters to do, or feel, or respond to certain situations that were going to arise, I could build a picture of who they were that would keep them consistent (and believably inconsistent) as I went through.

I adapted this advice from an article on The Erotica Readers & Writers Association website, where an author suggested using horoscope personality descriptions to create the differentiation. I don’t know enough about astrology to be able to use that method (and it’s very hard to work backwards from a personality to a star sign, rather than the other way) so I looked for something I found more accessible, and settled on the Kiersey-Bates book.

And there, I thought, I had my way of working. This was “the approach” that works for me, and I could rely on it in future. I could streamline somewhat my process for future projects. “Here’s my character. Here’s their KTS questionnaire and result. Here’s the description I’m referring back to when I need to.” I even set up a spreadsheet as a template on OpenOffice, to make figuring it out easier (just “save as..>” with the character’s name!).

However, that hasn’t worked out quite right for me this time. Although the nuances are different, two of my lead characters are going to be similar four-letter character types, and it felt awkward thinking through how I’d distinguish them easily. (In the novel undergoing feedback, there are two similar personality types but sufficiently different in motivations and other things as to make them easily individualised.)

Because it’s a world-building exercise as well – in that, the setting is a fairly recently settled world, and that the social norms there are part of what I’m building as a “what would they need/want/hope for?” exercise – there’s a lot of backstory to the setting and the roles people have in the society. There’s politics, intrigue, unrest and all those fun things to try to convey. One of the lead characters is the mayor, or president, of the settlement, the other is a social sciences researcher who gets pressed in as the closest thing to a detective they have. And these two came out as rather similar.

It occurred to me that Mr President would have run for election at some point. He’s basically taken over from the original leader of the colony, the whole, “big boots to fill”, and, “new challenges” as the colony grows and its status changes, and so on. SO I could attack the problem of getting into his mind by thinking about why he wanted to be president (which is relevant to the storyline) and how he appealed to the voters. Another significant event was going to be these two lead characters’ first meeting when the researcher arrives on the world to study their society. How did they develop friendship and how did they interact then?

I started by writing the murder scene. I knew I didn’t want to include it in the story (so the murderer is a mystery to the reader, I hope, until the big reveal) but having that bit of backstory/hidden action written out felt helpful. And that trend seems to be developing into the main way I’m doing the research/world-building for this. Rather than write out descriptions, and filling in the President’s personality type, I’m writing interviews and scenes with him, whole passages that are explicitly not a part of the story at all, but pure backstory.

So, I’m going to write that scene where these two meet for the first time. I’m going to write casual, non-plot-based scenes where the victim met the various suspects (and probably the ones that are relevant to the plot, too!) I’m going to write the significant social/family events from the point of view of one or more of the characters. Things that happened that give my characters a chance to speak in their own voices but don’t have any part in the main story. (It makes me imagine them as DVD outtakes to put at the end, possibly! Or maybe to use as teasers for the book.)

In a way, that was how I approached the first draft of my feedback-stage novel: I let the three main characters write it almost as diary entries, taking it in turns to describe how they saw the events. It works better as a third-person partial viewpoint but it let the characters shape themselves for me.

So, maybe my method hasn’t changed all that much from story to story after all.

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About ValeryNorth

I overthink everything.
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