Do you like my new blog header? It was designed by my dearest little sister, Kenzie Audacious. I love it!
Blog Me MAYbe — Wednesday — May I ask something about you?
How do you outline characters?
I know, I know. No one really wants to be asked this question because we all desire to be seat-of-pants writers who just have brilliant, coherent and complex stories flow from our brains to our fingertips to the word document. Please forgive me up front if I don’t believe you if you claim this particular style of writing. Writing is frequently termed a craft for a reason, and novels take crafting. Careful and frustrating crafting.
Now, I might believe there exists a person who can store all the complex character histories and overlapping plot arcs in their mind, but I am certainly not this kind of person. Outlines and character profiles and scene cards linked together with string & thumb tacks always feel tedious and not-so-fun when I’m doing them at the very early stages of a novel, but when I’m towards the end, or when I’m rewriting, that’s when they become inevitably useful.
This isn’t to say I don’t write-as-I-go a little bit. I do have a “zero draft” of the novel, which is essentially sketches of scenes and exchanges of dialogue and descriptions of settings. Most of the time the only way I can get a feel for a particular piece of character development, or plot pacing, or location is to sit and write it down. But those are very rudimentary and always used to fill in the pieces of my outlines. The first draft will be written post-planning stage.
For Noveling through Summer I am using a 10-scene plot outline that I swear by, and though I have it only partially and roughly filled in, I’m not too worried that it’s the proper format for me to use as I go forward.
But I keep getting stuck on a useful format for a character profile & history. I do have a index card system that will, I believe, be very helpful when I need a quick reference to something about a character. However, I’ve got extensive histories of characters written out in bullet points, and little diagrams about what sorts of scenes these histories will greatly impact or minorly impact. It’s all a larger, more complex history that I must know, and that the reader will gradually come to learn, and I can’t quite sort out how to format these histories in a way that’s easily referenced.
An Update: From all the comments, I feel a need to update this post a bit. I am only doing extensive character profiles for my narrator, Vera, and the ghost, Lennon. For two reasons, and both reasons are equally important to me. First, they are foils to one another. Yup, I am purposefully writing in a foil relationship — the more I have come to imagine Vera and Lennon, the more I realized they foiled one another a lot. Knowing that, I have decided it’s important for me to know a pretty extensive history for them so I know when to bring in moments of foiling(?) and when to let them stand on their own. Second, Vera and Lennon have had very tragic pasts, and I want to give both them and any readers who may relate a whole lot of justice and respect.
Thus today’s question — what sort of outlining or planning tools / strategies do you use for characters (or heard of someone else using, or read in a book that you thought might be useful but never tried)?