“If you try to design a character to be successful, you will fail. The harder you try, the worse it gets.” -- Lee Child in “Lee Child Crafts a Rootless Hero Who Resonates.”(Interview) [The Writer, January 2010]
I’ve found this to be true, especially when writing a character for the first time. I have a recurring, redneck character named Morgan, who went through a few transformations before I finally found him. The more characteristics I gave him, the more cliched he became; and some of the things about his character didn’t ring true. So I got rid of them. He’s a lot simpler now. Complexity doesn’t fit Morgan’s personality, but he’s not one-dimensional either.
Some writers suggest you think about a character -- live with him or her for a while -- before you start writing. I have a few sample character charts meant for this purpose. I don’t use them unless I find I’m stuck on a character. Maybe if I took the time to fill them out, I wouldn’t get stuck. :) I used the charts for a longer story I wrote to help me keep track of the physical descriptions of the characters and their relationships. I found it helpful. I can’t imagine writing a novel without having a chart to refer to. I would certainly forget some aspect of a character I wrote about on page 20 by the time I reached page 200. I have trouble remembering from one short story to the next exactly what a recurring character did or what he looked like. Now that I’ve written that, I guess I should go back and create a chart for my buddy Morgan. :)
How do you keep track of your characters?
I wish you all a wonderful holiday season and a writerly New Year.