Last time I discussed building a setting. Now let’s look at characters.
I’ve written before about the Fiasco method for character creation, where you begin by developing the relationships between the characters before deciding any of their identifying properties. In a world of over-elaborate character sheets this might seem the wrong way round, but the point of working on relationships first is that this is a more direct way of uncovering conflict, and conflict means story.
Fiasco Method Summary
This is for developing central characters for your story. Supporting cast don’t need the full treatment, although considering those relationships with the primary cast would be useful.
- pick a number of characters. One of these is likely to be the protagonist while one is likely to be the antagonist, but these roles do not have to be defined yet. Identify them with neutral labels like letters, colours, or numbers. You’re going to want at least three, but more than five may become unmanageable.
You may have well-defined ideas for character properties going in to this process. Note those if they are relevant to the story.
- write the labels out in a circle on a piece of paper. You have choices here: if you already know the protag will have relationships with every other primary character then maybe put the protag in the centre with the others in a circle around them. However, in a formless void I recommend a circle.
- consider the relationships between each pair of characters at the start of the story. What you’re looking for are relationships that would exist in your setting which explore aspects of the story you are interested in exploring. This may be a place to do some brainstorming to find appropriate terms.
Tip: the relationships do not have to be symmetrical.
Tip: there could be multiple relationships between two characters.
- assign appropriate identifying properties to the characters.
Example 1: Livia
The idea gathering for Livia started with three characters. These were labelled A, B and C. Then we brainstormed potential relationships and threw them up on the board. We ended up with an eternal triangle with some complexities around accidental incest.
For this process, none of the relationships we came up with were specific to the story, although the character properties were.
Example 2: Spores
Let’s start here with some actual character ideas, because this doesn’t always start from a blank piece of paper.
I’m going to keep this story within the village I posited last time. So, let’s have three characters: X, Y, Z. Imagine these are in a triangle, but I am going to represent these relationships in a table instead. I am going to take advantage of this tabular format to talk about the characters’ self-image.
|self: there is a path for X in the village – become a farmer and till the land his family owns. He’s not interested in that, but he is well liked despite that uncertainty.|
X is also going to transform pretty early in the story.
|X is Y’s younger brother. He has always been admiring of Y, but is appalled by Y taking on a purity patrol role||X knows Z because everyone knows everyone in the village, but Z is a lot older and has never beene tolerant of children.|
|Y is X’s older sister, but has never been protective of him in the way some kids are. There is about five years between them. Y is pro||self: Y is proud to have joined the purity patrol.||Z is Y’s leader in the purity patrol. She doesn’t trust him because of how he looks at her, but she is loyal to his leadership of the patrol.|
|X is just another kid taking up space||finds Y very attractive. Will not make a move on her for any number of reasons (he’s married, she’s a subordinate, she’s too young), but he’s not very good at hiding his feelings||self: Z is secretly one of the transformed that it is his job to remove from the village. His power is subtle (heightened sense of emotional states) but he quickly realised that the best way to avoid detection was to be the detective.|
So, that’s a nice web of conflicts. Let’s assign the characters some identifiers:
- X — Xero (this is future, so going to use some weird names). Late teens, say 17, which means he thinks he’s safe from transformation (most of the transformed do so before the age of 15). He has just started working on the farm after his schooling.
Xero’s transformation happens after a sporeswarm, and he starts to exhibit matter phasing when he drops a glass during dinner: it passed right through his hand.
- Y — Yasmine (but some normal names). Early twenties. She has been working in the purity patrol for about a year, and we first meet her as she is ejecting a transformee, one of the kids she used to babysit. She is not callous, but she is remorseless.
- Z — Seth. Has led the purity patrol for ten years, and served in it for fifteen years before that. He transformed late (even later than Xero) which helped him remain hidden. That was when he resolved to join the purity patrol.
Next time I’ll talk a bit about structure.