Saturday, October 27, 2012

I don't plot, but I do know my characters!

If you know an author or two, you might here them say they're either plotters or pantsers. While some plot their entire novel out ahead of time, others just write without any idea of what's going to happen next. I fall into this category. I might start with some vague idea but usually don't know what is going to happen between chapter 1 and chapter 25... okay, I don't even know if there will be a chapter 25.

I'd like to think that I write character driven novels with some good plot mixed in, so I start with the characters. I know as much about them as possible.

1. I start with a character profile that looks something like this:

Name: Joel Parker                                           age: 29

  • What's your character's name? Nickname(s)? Joel Christian Parker
  • How old is s/he?   29 and looks his age.
  • Nationality? Birthplace? California
  • Academic Background: has a degree in fitness, nutrition, and business management.
  • Occupation/Job Experience:
    • Attitude toward management? Attitude toward Unions? He is the management.
    • Attitude toward the various jobs s/he's held?
    • Character's ambitions? To maintain his healthy lifestyle and expand his business.
  • Military Experience?  No. He thought about going into the military but decided not to.
  • Reaction to his/her military experience?
  • Any traumatic incidents while in the service?
  • Aptitudes? 
This profile is pages and pages long with a wide variety of things to fill in. I found a few character profiles on the Internet and combined them. Also, as you can see, a lot of the questions are left empty because I simply don't know this information yet and it'll probably unfold as I write the story. I'll fill in the information as it pops into my head. Here is another part of the profile for the same character: 

  • When and how did s/he discover sex? He had just turned 16 and had started working out at the gym. One of the gym bunnies that hung out with Hugh came onto him. Her name was Chrissy. She showed him the ropes in a sexual relationship that lasted for several months. Chrissy was 21. This makes him careful on who hangs out at Beach Bodies. He can’t stand a gym bunny.
  • If single, is there a significant other? No girlfriends
  • Significant Others?
    •  Best friend(s)? Joel hangs out with a group of friends: Kenan Brock works at Beach Bodies and is a competitive body builder, Hailey Ellis is a struggling actress, Conway Fitzgerald rebels against his families wealth by dressing from thrifts stores and acting trashy.
    • Lover? Not currently. His latest one was Becca Lange. She had been a college student partying on spring break.
Some information that I write down on the profile doesn't make it into the story. Check out the sexual history question listed above. I'm halfway through Beach Bodies and this aspect of the story hasn't been mentioned once. I either don't need this information because it's irrelevant to the character or I'll add it in during revisions. So why write it down? I need to know my character inside and out like I'd know my best friend. Check out the physical description down below. I can picture my character in my head based on these words: 
  • Height? Weight? Hair Color? Physical frame/body type? 6’0, weight: ?, light brown hair, muscular
  • Skin tone? Waist? Hair texture? Feet? Tan Skin, big feet
  • Ears? Hands/fingers? Hair length? Legs? Normal size ears with silver hoop earings, large hands, hair is cut really short in the back but longer on the top. Legs are muscular.
  • Tail? Nose? Chin? Cheeks? Medium size nose but a little crooked due to a fight when he was a preteen. He has a dimple on each cheek.
  • Beard? Mustache? Arms? Musculature? He has a goatee which he keeps neatly trimmed.
  • Eyes? Eye Color? Eye brows? Stomach? Green eyes, medium eye brows which are light brown. Stomach is toned… visible 6 pack.
  • Butt?  Skin? Movement? Toned butt, clear skin. He has freckles over his shoulders. He struts with confidence when he walks.
  • Face: Gaunt? Lean? Puffy? Square? Rectangular? Oval? Expressionless? Solid? Lean, oval shaped face. He is serious when he is working but when he is away from the job, he is always smiling.
  • Body: Fat? Bloated? Thin? Bony? Frail? Muscular? Stocky? Muscular
  • Demeanor: Militarily Erect? Droopy? Leads with the stomach or breast? Easy going and leads slightly with his chest but doesn’t over do it.
  • Movement: Clumsy? Graceful? Stiff? Leisurely? Smooth? Brisk? He moves smoothly but with confidence.
  • Walk: Military? Brisk? Saunter? Hip-swaying? Leisurely? Graceful? Clumsy? He saunters when he walks but when he is at work, he becomes more serious.
  • Complexion: Sallow? Pale? Ruddy? Blotchy? Pockmarked? Pimply? Glowing? Tanned (from the sun), clear complexion. Slight dusting of freckles over his shoulders.
  • Gestures: Animated? None? Big & sweeping? Small & economical? When he is working he is dramatic/animated (claps his hands for emphasis, ect), away from work Joel is easy going and happy.
  • Any physical deformities/weaknesses/handicaps? He feels like his crooked nose as a weakness
  • Style of Dress/Favorite Clothing/Jewelry Typically Worn? He wears name brand but casual clothes. He wears a stop watch and is often in a yellow and blue Beach Bodies t-shirt/shorts during work but also dresses casual/name brands during off hours. He wears a stop watch during work and a watch off work. He has his ears pierced and wears small silver hoops. 

Every character gets a profile but when I really need to go deeper in a character's psyche I'll do an interview. To do this exercise I will listen to any music that sets the tone for the book and I'll answer the questions as I think my character would. I didn't do an interview with Joel (the profile above), so I'm sharing part of an interview for another character: 

(responses in his/her own voice)

OCCUPATION: I’m a mom. I take my job seriously. I’m all Taylor really has. Okay, she has her dad and his bimbo (I never say that in front of Taylor!) but they rarely come around. It’s me and her.

CURRENT HOME: The home Lance and I made as husband and wife. It’s been a year now and the weird thing is that I barely have any memories of him there. He was always out shooting a movie somewhere. It has always been Taylor’s and my home. Lance was always the guest. Perhaps that’s why he left me for her?

MARITAL STATUS:              I’m embarrassed to admit to being divorced. I thought when I said I do that it would be forever. That’s what it’s suppose to be anyway.

Would you ever get remarried? No way. Lance was it for me. Maybe I’m not a good wife. I won’t take that chance again.

Lisa Palmer played a background character in the first 2 Desert Secret books. It was hard for me to get inside of her head when it was time to start her story. She had always been there, but I didn't know her. I decided to do an interview based on the information that I had. I can tell by her answers that she has a lot of regrets about her former marriage, jealousy over his new wife, and... a lot of baggage. This stuff will have an impact on her and her relationship when the hero, Seth Bright, enters the picture. This exercise really worked because I didn't make the questions up ahead of time. I found this on the Internet and filled it out. Another idea: have an author friend send you over some questions. The key is not to know what is being asked ahead of time. 

So, this is how I start every single book I write! 

Talk to you soon,
Wendy Ely 


  1. Thanks so much for sharing this, Wendy. I, too, collect character interviews online and combine them. I'll be borrowing some of yours. This was useful info!

  2. Thank you very much- I have also copied! :P :D Character development has been my weak area for a while, so this hit the spot.