Happy New Year, everybody! It is January 13, 2016, sixth of the last, and the prompt is the one from December 2011: “How do you develop and relate to your characters?”
As I’m sure all the fanficcers out there know, everybody has a different take on the canon crew in whatever fandom they personally work. For instance: I’m a lot softer on Anakin than Erin is, but I don’t go as much in-depth on him as ruth baulding does, and I like to think I give him nobler motivations than Valairy Scot has been known to. Obi-Wan as baulding writes him has a far drier and sharper sense of humor than the Obi-Wan you’ll see around here. At base, though, they’re still Obi-Wan and Anakin, and whoever writes whatever about them has to find a way of tying it back to the canon (or Expanded Universe…) somehow, and keeping the characters moderately recognizable.
My own characters, the ones I build from the ground up, are a different story. As far as personality goes, I usually pull three different versions of a Myers-Briggs test and run them ‘in character’ as the character I’m working on. I really like this one, because it gives generalized personality comments depending on what you answer, and you can then build off those. These tests force you to make things up in a hurry, which means you generally get what feels right for the character, rather than what will logically work with the story. Which is, after all, how real people develop.
And Mary-Sue tests! I could not live without these. Springhole has most thorough that I’ve found, but katfeete’s is good if you just need a quick check. These are also good for backstory-on-the-fly, and I often come away going huh, didn’t think of doing that, let’s go. There is a fine balance between a character being boring and a character being literally unbelievably cool and awesome and basically Rey. (Kijé, for the record, scores 8 on the Springhole Test. Nasriel comes through in the late-teens range, mostly because the Saalisan nobility stuff throws on points like you wouldn’t believe.)
Mostly, unless I really need a new character on deck in a hurry, I give them a few trial runs in cameo, an unpublished short-story ‘screen test’ to see how they behave, and then after we’ve done the Myers-Briggs and Mary-Sue work, they’re on their own to develop how they please. Reseda Che, for example… went off and did his own little thing without bothering to consult the management.
As soon as a character reaches ‘real person’ status, any new backstory points, likes, dislikes, and so on are their own affair – I just work with what happens and generally tailor the story to fit the characters rather than trying to make it function the other way around. Because that just doesn’t work. So say I really, really, want to do a story with someone turning to the Dark Side, and I really, really, want it to be Mi Amarok, I can’t. Because she won’t do that.
As to the exact how of character development, I’ll demonstrate with Kijé.
Kijé Yenseh started live as the vague idea that Nasriel needed a male friend who wasn’t Ben. He first showed up in the rather weird Trip to Dar Valin and A Practice Duel that Erin and I played tennis with a few years ago, and as a cameo in The Letter (they were all published on the same day). His name came from a piece of Prokofiev that I liked, and from a dentist I did not like. His appearance has remained remarkably stable over the years, with only a brief alteration from straight hair to wavy hair and back again. I’ve still got my first drawing of Kijé, and it still looks like him.
For a while, while Kijé was still officially in development, I took to borrowing him as backup whenever my limited IRL social life seemed to require a boyfriend. Kijé’s backstory grew whenever I needed details about my ‘boyfriend’ – I just ran over and asked him things like ‘what’s your favorite color, when’s your birthday, can you knit, do you like Mission Impossible?’ The thing about the limp was pure story practicality: that way he’s always in the Temple and he and Nasriel can run into each other anytime. The thing about working in the Archives rather than, say, the armory, was mine. It’s easier to say your boyfriend’s a librarian than it is to say he’s a soldier. That’s also why he’s from Skye: it’s one of the few worlds that has a homographous counterpart on this planet.
Nasriel started as just a surname. Then I started messing with letters to put a first name to it, and handed the whole thing over to a space pirate. It took me a week to realize I didn’t want a space pirate, and reading Wild Space to realize I wanted a Jedi who could be around at the same time as Obi-Wan. A few backstory kinks to iron out, mostly to lower Nasriel’s Mary-Sue score and make her less like me, and things kind of took off from there!
As far as relating to my characters goes: as soon as they’re fully-fledged, no longer on probation (passed all the tests and so on) they move into the Blue House. Most of the girl characters start off either like me or like someone I know, but by the time they move in and begin work, they’re definitely their own people. Which means there are discussions about how they would react to a story. As often as not, stories get started because I’m doing something – juicing ten pounds of lemons, say – and chatting to one of my characters at the same time (yes, usually out loud) and the character says ‘that looks like fun, can I do that?’ and boom, story. The lemons one is still in pre-production, waiting for some of the cast to get clear of other commitments.
I run stories like movies – pre-production is planning, choosing who’s in it and what’s going to happen. Filming is the first draft, mostly because I play out the stories as films in my mind and just write down what I’m seeing, hearing, feeling, as I watch. Post-production is typing out the manuscript and editing it. And the casting usually shapes the whole course and feel of the story – something with Jiron and Reseda will have a completely different genre to the same general plot with Obi-Wan and Anakin.
This post, of course, is listed on the Blue House schedule as a documentary. Yes, I am that weird.
Thanks for reading.
Just for interest: I tried the Springhole Test with Rey, operating under the assumption that she is Han and Leia’s daughter (rather than the other theory – ugh), and is a ‘newcomer’ to a canon universe. I gave up when I realized she was at seventy, on a scale where 50 is extreme danger, with no visible de-Suifiers. Most of hers come from the Kylo Ren issue and the whole where-is-my-family thing. Scary thing is, she’s still pretty darn cool.
How do you do your characters? On the fly, carefully planned months in advance, or based on real people you hope will never find out what you’ve done?