I’m not methodical after I get my ideas. It could be considered a fault, but I’m content to let the details just come. Sometimes I’ll throw things together with a purpose, but for the most part I come up with a name, which gives me a rough outline of the thing (place, person, etc) and allow the rest to come with the writing.
On Ideas: “They’re like spider-webs, and you have a tiny, tiny flashlight with which to discover it.” – Melanie Edmonds
The above quote was from a writing friend, and I felt it perfectly captures how I go about exploring my fiction as I write it.
I know it doesn’t work for everyone though.
When it comes to trying to put together believable characters, you can obviously try the approach where you just make it up and hope any inconsistencies work themselves out. The other thing you can do is plan. I don’t think that it’s enough to focus on your main character. Yes, the MC has to be strong, easy for readers to identify with, have flaws and virtues, motivations, dreams, and an arc that changes them. It might just be ring method talking, but I think the same goes for all of your characters. Once you have the name and overall archetype, your job is not done.
These things can happen through the course of writing. You suddenly realise that your main character wants to open a coffee shop, because his mother ran away to Brazil when he was only eight, and never allowed to drink it. Sorting out these details beforehand can’t hurt either, in the same way that world-building or character history can add to what you’re writing even if it never sees the final draft. When I started re-evaluating my various science fiction ideas, I realised that they could all fit into a single timeline. My need to do that is a relic from my TMO days, when building a brand new story of likeable characters, only to ditch them all in a next made come down with a case of sequelitis.
I started thinking of ways to connect the stories, even if the same characters didn’t return. Only a half-assed sequel of one of them ever got made, but that isn’t really the point. What happened when I started connecting my stories together, was that there felt like there was suddenly more weight to each one. They weren’t just a standalone story (still incredible in their own right, of course), but a chapter in a much larger landscape. I wrote a short premise-story for the setting itself, not intending to ever use it – only to have it there so I knew.
When you have those details, they carry weight.
If it sounds like I’m contradicting myself about the best approach, it’s because there isn’t one. The details need to be there for your characters – maybe not all of them, but at least the major ones. Not JUST your main character. The antagonist’s motivation (if it’s sentient) needs to be understandable, even if the reader doesn’t agree. I’m just going to checklist this up for your majors:
- What flaws does the character have?
- What are their virtues?
- They have a goal. What is it?
- WHY is that their goal?
- What flaws can they overcome?
- Which of their virtues can turn into obstacles?
- What do they learn?
- What would it take for them to be happy, or even just content?
- Why are they in your story?
There’s bound to be other questions that you can ask about your characters, but those are the ones that come to mind. They don’t have to be answered in the course of your story, but you should know the answers to those questions. It’s up to you whether you wait until they’re relevant, or answer them all in advance.