At present I'm writing a 3-book science fantasy series. I've been working for about a year just thinking things out. These are the reference documents I've made so far:
1) a major character development doc that's 30 pages long;
2) a non-character development doc that's 20 pages long (this doc holds all the
ideas I have for the world, technology, clothes, you name it, it's in there); this
document grows the fastest;
3) a plot document for the first book;
4) a plot document for the entire series;
5) a timeline doc that I use in conjunction with the plot docs to make sure that
I time events in the story correctly, that each event has a purpose for the
plot, and that each event pushes the story forward toward the final climax
in some way;
6) the manuscript itself, which is about 20,000 words first draft writing.
I also have a 3-book classic fantasy that I've been working on for many many years. (I put it down around 2000 or so when Harry Potter became a sensation. My story involves a similar plot aspect as Harry, so now I feel stymied, even though my story was plotted back around 1993. Should I just go for it and brave the wrath of Harry fans who think Rowling was the first one to write about certain common life issues? I'm not sure yet.) Anyway, I've done massive development for this story, too. So far I have the following reference documents:
1) a major character development doc that's 38 pages long;
2) a plot document for the first book that's 22 pages long;
3) a plot document for the entire series that's about 40 pages long;
4) the manuscript of Book 1, which is 113,000 words so far, or about 460 pages;
5) probably 1-200 pages of old development docs that were written so long ago
I can't even get them open because Word can't open docs that old anymore.
So does this put the real process of writing novels into perspective? A character chart isn't extra work. It's essential work. So is all the other work that goes into world building, plotting, and everything else. Writing IS WORK. It's fun work, but it's still work. It's making endless decisions about every teeny weeny person and building and weather condition in your story, every piece of food, every mode of transportation, every single element along with all the decisions about voice, grammar, tone, pace and all that mechanical stuff. It's good to think about these things and keep track of your decisions, either in various documents like I do, or in some other fashion you prefer.
When you write, you're in complete control. Keep that control and use it!
#8 DEVELOPING CHARACTER, Part 2:
A Filled-In Character Chart for Luke Skywalker
Bobbi JG Weiss 4/9/14
In my last blog, I offered a character bio chart with prompts to help you fill in information. Now let's take a look at a filled-in chart for Luke Skywalker. (I'm presuming you know who that is — if you don't, can I come visit your planet some day?) As with the first bio chart, this is from my writer's help book Writing Is Acting: How to Improve the Writer's Onpage Performance.
Actors often write character bios. They’ll take all the information they can glean from the script and then expand on it until their character is big as life in their minds. Some actors merely jot notes down in the margins of their script. Others write up detailed documents. Any format and length is fine as long as it works for the individual actor.
I have encountered writers who balk at writing character biographies. Granted, it’s extra work, but it’s work you’ll have to do anyway, in some form. You can’t write actions and dialogue for someone you don’t know. I encourage writers, especially beginners, to know as much about their characters as possible. Shallowness and inconsistencies that appear in your final story will undermine all your other hard work. That can be avoided by writing up detailed bios.
Now here’s the filled-in sample. As I said above, this sample uses the well-known character of Luke Skywalker. Note that I wrote this bio as of the first movie, as if this were a document that George Lucas might have written for use during the writing of his first script, A New Hope. Knowledge about Luke discovered in later movies does not apply.
CHARACTER NAME: Luke Skywalker
AGE: about 16
NATIONALITY: native of planet Tatooine
MODEL: n/a (who knows who George Lucas envisioned before Mark Hamill was cast?)
GENERAL PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION
Height: about 5’9”
Weight: about 150 lbs.
Eye Color: heroic blue
Hair Color and Style: blonde, short, shaggy
Other Specific Body Characteristics: Cute features that will become handsome as he ages. Shuffles his feet when he walks. Slumps shoulders and hangs head when depressed. Suffers from a little teenage awkwardness. Once his heroism surfaces, he stands more erect and tries to be more sure of himself, but he’s still endearingly awkward.
FASHION PREFERENCES: Grew up on a desert “moisture” farm, so he has had little chance to develop style. Wears utilitarian beige tunic with leggings and boots. He’s the kind of kid who would think wearing a cape is dashing.
PERSONALITY: A charming dreamer but very frustrated because of the circumstances of his life. Ready for action, even if he has no idea how to handle action. Brave, naïve, a little stupid (leaps before he looks), eager for adventure. If he had a puppy tail, it would wag constantly. Very likeable, not always responsible, loyal and honest to a fault. Stubborn, determined, ambitious. A hopeless romantic.
FAULTS: Undisciplined, rash, easily riled, desperate to grow up.
Mother: name unspecified, deceased
Father: Anakin Skywalker, deceased (no hints that he’s Vader in this film)
Sister(s): none known
Brother(s): none known
Other Significant Relatives: none
WHERE/WHEN BORN: n/a
EDUCATION: Presumably he attended/received the traditional education according to the Tatooine system.
POLITICAL BELIEFS/PARTY AFFILIATIONS: Luke desperately wants to join the Rebel Alliance, but he’s too young yet. He at least wants to enroll at the "Academy,” but his uncle won’t allow it.
RELIGIOUS OR PHILOSOPHICAL BELIEFS: Good must conquer Evil because that’s how it should be. To struggle and fight for what is right is noble and good. No specific belief system otherwise specified.
LIKES/DISLIKES: Luke hates working on his uncle’s farm, but he’s a good kid so he does as he’s told. He hates the fact that his uncle won’t let him attend the Academy — his uncle broke a bargain, and Luke feels very betrayed by that. He dislikes his life on Tatooine in general, feeling that life is passing him by. He dislikes that his aunt and uncle won’t tell him much about his father. His only pleasure in life is getting to go into town, which his uncle forbids as often as possible.
FRIENDS: Luke mentions only Biggs Darklighter by name, and Biggs already left to join the Rebellion.
ENEMIES: None that he’s aware of, at first. Later he discovers that he’s a major enemy of the Empire in general and of Darth Vader in particular.
DESCRIBE CHARACTER'S HOUSE/DWELLING/POSSESSIONS: Luke has lived, up to now, in a bland, functional desert farm dwelling. He’s used to high winds, sand in everything, and a landscape full of flat nothing. He has had no luxuries in his life. He knows how to live practically, even though he hates it. His favorite toy left over from childhood is a model spaceship. Other than that, he enjoys tinkering with the tools in his uncle’s workshop. If left on his own he probably would be very creative with them. As it is, he’s limited to fixing and maintaining farm equipment and droids.
SPECIAL TALENTS (NOT SUPERHUMAN): Luke is an exceptional speeder driver and shows all the traits of an excellent star pilot. He’s smart despite being naïve about the world. Events later demonstrate that he’s exceptionally brave.
Mental: Luke discovers later that he has the inborn psi abilities of a Jedi, inherited from his father.
Physical: None, except those made possible by his Jedi psi talents.
PROFESSION: Kid, then Jedi-in-training.
INCOME: None, much to his annoyance.
SOCIAL STATUS: Nil at first, much to his annoyance. But by the end of the movie, he is acknowledged as a galaxy-class hero.
MILITARY BACKGROUND: None. Later, he learns a few things from Kenobi, but not too much.
SIGNIFICANT EVENTS IN CHARACTER'S LIFE: The death of his parents, especially his father, long ago. The murder of his aunt and uncle that occurs at the beginning of the film, for which he feels responsible.
AMBITIONS/DESIRES IN LIFE: At first, to join the Rebellion against the evil Empire. Later, to become a Jedi in order to fight the Empire with greater skills.
I’m not George Lucas, so my character chart certainly isn’t perfect. But you get the idea of how it defines the character. The more you write, the more you’ll know.