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Character Building



I find characters fascinating. If the story isn't that great, sometimes a neat character can really lift the whole thing up - or sometimes poor characters can drag down a neat story idea. When I write I can spend weeks thinking of the story and how a character may react in a given circumstance - sometimes coming up with scenes that would be very deep into the story and then having to write all the supporting scenes to get to that point.

Character building can be done tons of ways, but I usually start off one of two ways - either an image that I work from or I have no idea and build personality first. If I use an image my approach is normally that they are the love interest and so I will write from that direction - building on the image in the main characters mind because I think most folks start with the packaging - the outside - and then discover the product underneath. That's not to say there aren't other methods - meeting online such as in a virtual environment allows us to meet people by personality and the sound of their voice before we see their outside, as a for instance.  If I choose to start writing without a firm idea of appearance it usually begins with an inciting incident - but I find it kind of funny that if I do so, I generally struggle early because I don't even have names for the characters.

Over the course of a story or a series my characters will grow from a couple of different potentials: one is outside influences. This mostly happens during story development - I'll read or watch something and imagine how I'd do it differently. One example of that is the Tull Unification. I read a story - actually two by the same authors - and while enjoying the initial concepts, found places where I'd have made hard right turns on the choices the authors made. Will Tull the initial concept was of one of the primary characters dying, which can be a tough story two balance between the reality of death and not being maudlin so as to disengage the reader. The 'gimmick' here was the use of the band songs that ended up tying all the differing viewpoints together, but also because I chose not to extend the character dying very long. We meet Charlie Hampton, and in  short order we lose him. By doing this we get an impression for who he is, but not a complete one so the reader is left with the impression, and it gives me a chance to alter that impression down the road.

I think character building also includes character development. As a story progresses the character changes - not the basics of their personality, but perhaps they learn new things and adjust accordingly or situations change that make them reconsider or grow on a position or accepted set of behaviors. To me this can be a tricky area because the reader has grown used to the character, perhaps relates at that point and then things change. I read one story, by the unnamed authors above, whereby the reader was brought into a different characters POV and there was a scene that not only didn't seem to advance the story, but was decidedly uncomfortable to read (for me and some others, not to say it's a universal). The thing is reading is a subjective experience so when a character changes or grows, the reader may not approve. I used to not think about this very often, but I admit it affects my decision-making to a point now.

One example would be that while writing the story arc in Sanitaria Springs with @Cynus, we developed the characters of Logan, Seth and Grayson. Cynus and I spent a lot - and I mean a ton - of time talking to each other and planning our characters to be consistent with who they are, honoring their motivations and allowing them to be breathing, living characters. The result of that was that, for a time, the three formed a 'thruple', or all three were dating each other at the same time - a form of a poly relationship. I can clearly recall a reader asking us both if this was a poly relationship, and then letting us know they'd no longer be reading. I understand. There are bright lines for every reader of discomfort or personal experience or (insert reason) that they won't read certain things. However as a writer it's a little frustrating because the characters have to grow as they would, not how I think life should be. Through the natural course of their development they tried the three-person relationship and it eventually failed. I think it was a valuable thing to have seen people make an honest effort to have the relationship they think works besot for them, and they continue to learn and grow whether it fails or succeeds.

Another example would be a story that, at the time of this blog, is currently posting - Bloom. This story was influenced from many, many directions including a primary character in @Mrsgnomie's story, Three Strikes. The main character was developed over the course of several conversations with a young man who is very active in social media and he explained his motivations with various platforms and how people he knows of his own age group view his efforts. I found it very interesting, though I think many people would find it to be something of a generational or moral gap due to differing opinions and sets of morals. It was one reason I found my main character so interesting to write because his opinions weren't necessarily my own - though I feel more enlightened after having gone on his journey.

My characters have allowed forays into the tried-and-true boy-meets-boy, but also boy-meets-boy-meets-boy. I once had couple + couple. One guy - okay more than one - has a thing for legs. One kind of has a thing for feet. Some like blonds while others find cinnamon colored skin attractive; some are dying to have sex and others just want a solid cuddle. Of the hundreds of characters I've written, the challenge sometimes is to make them stand out on their own. Sometimes it's hair color - like Caleb Montgomery's golden-red - or sometimes it's because the relationship isn't standard or because their boyfriend is a Nephilim (angel/human hybrid).

Good characters can take us to strange, uncomfortable, scary, fun, sexy, heartfelt places all from the safety of our screens. Through these unique characters we get the chance to look through keyholes into a new experience. Thank you to the readers who are indulging my forays into the different ways people relate and fall in love.

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