I don’t outline my stories, something I used to never admit to because it felt like I wrote ‘wrong’. Now I know that everyone has their own unique style of getting words on paper. Plus a friend of mine said I wrote ‘organic’ and I love that phrase. In this day of expensive things labelled ‘green’ and ‘organic’ I feel stylish.
I also used to use character dossiers when I first started writing. I would religiously fill out all fifty pages for each character, and then never refer to them again. Recently I started wondering if there was a way to develop characters also organically, since I discovered that a dossier is, for me, a mini outline.
There are a lot of internet resources out there on organic character development. Some still felt like outlining though. For instance, one had you make lists of the significant people in your life, as those are who your characters come from. I love lists, but not with writing.
One thing I read about though was something I have always done. The resource suggested keeping a ‘faces folder’ where you collect photos of faces that fascinate you. I started doing that many years ago as personal writing exercises. I would find a face in a magazine or newspaper that caught my eye, clip it out, and try to describe it. A nose, a chin, etc. Then I would read the description and see if I could match it to the face. That evolved into using the folder to remind me visually of characters. I would lay photos out around my laptop. As I wrote, if I struggled with a scene and how a specific character would react, I could glance at the photo as a physical reminder.
I have learned that in organic character development, many people do this. Wow. I thought I was just weird.
My teenage son is a huge fan of McDonald’s. When I allow him to eat there, I have to avoid staring at one of the employees. She has the most amazing, non-traditionally beautiful face I have ever seen. As I wrote The Memory Keeper, her face became the character of Jess. When I struggled with the character, I’d allow my son a trip to McDonald’s. I could never figure out how to approach a real live person and ask to take their photo.
I would love to know how others develop characters. For me, after all my research, I have decided to return to what works best for me. Simply writing the story and letting the character tell me who he is.