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30 Days of Writing: Characters, again

I'm starting to feel like a lot of these questions are about characters and characterization; I hope it's not getting too repetative.


9. How do you get ideas for your characters? Describe the process of creating them.

As a fanfic writer, for the most part I'm not "creating" characters as such: the names exist, and so do the faces, and in most cases at least the bare outlines of history and personality. Some require more fleshing out than others, of course, and as mentioned previously I do come up with original characters pretty frequently, especially in longer stories. How the process works depends a lot on where the particular character falls on this spectrum. I'd say there are four rough categories, with a lot of continuum space between them:

1. Major canon characters. In the Final Fantasy context (which I will most likely stick with for the purposes of this post, since that makes up the vast majority of my writing experience) these are the main party characters, the ones you spend 60 or more hours getting to know as you play the game -- Auron, Paine, Ashe, Balthier. For the most part, we know their backstories fairly well and have a strong sense of their personality, but that doesn't mean that it doesn't take any work to develop them. In some respects, it's actually harder, because anyone who reads my stories will already know these characters, can hear their voices, will have their own ideas about how to fill the gaps left by canon. For these characters -- and for everything, really, but I prioritize characterization above pretty much all else -- I am very careful to take as much canonical knowledge into account as possible when making my decisions about characterization. Some of the secondary characters fall in this category, too, depending on how many details the game provides. The guys of the Crimson Squad, for example; they aren't in the main party, but we see enough to get some kind of handle on them. Same with the guest characters in FFXII, and the major villains in most of the games.

2. Minor canon characters. We have a name, a face, a few glimmers of personality; depending on the character, we might know a little about their personal history or we might not. The character who falls in this category that I've worked with the most is probably Beclem. We don't spend much time with him in canon, but what we do see leaves a strong impression, and gave me more than enough to work with in terms of rounding him out in ways that make him both believable and more sympathetic than he is in canon. Kinoc, too, and Al-Cid, and Cid Raines, who stars in my (so far) one and only FFXIII fic. I try to take what we do know from canon and run with it: what do we know about this person, what do we know about other people like them? It makes a different kind of challenge, and it's probably the one I have the most fun with.

3. Canon characters about whom we know almost nothing, sometimes not even a name. Primarily, at least in terms of the characters I have written, these are characters who we know exist because of backstory but we never meet them (Yuna's mother comes immediately to mind) and the characters who we meet but are really not much more than a face (my best personal example is probably Berrik, the Al Bhed blitzball player who I once put into an epic romance of sorts with Paine; also Al-Cid's aide, who will have a fairly major role in my Mega Flare story). They're almost original characters, but not quite, which gives me a lot of latitude but not total freedom. And -- total honesty -- creating original characters is always risky for a fanfic writer, because there are so many people who refuse to read stories featuring them. Using near-blank slate canon characters is, in some ways, a good compromise.

4. Purely original characters. Maybe some people can write fic without ever inventing OCs, but I can't. How empty would the world be without them? However, I tend not to use them if I don't need to, which means that most of my OCs are created to fulfill a specific purpose: Auron's comrades in the warrior monks. His daughter, who provides a vehicle to explore Spira's future and link it back to his past. Paine and Nooj's children. Ashe's royal retainers. Al-Cid's "birds". The commandant of Cocoon's military academy. All these characters were vital a story I wanted to tell; I gave them whatever backstory and characterization enabled them to fill the role I needed them to play and let the rest flow from the writing process. I do something similar with canonical characters sometimes, but without the canon constraints I'm a lot freer to play around with them. And once I come up with a character I like, I reuse them shamelessly.

What do you think, other fic writers? Do you agree with these categories, or do you see a different schemata? Any and all thoughts welcome.

30 Days of Writing: Complete list of questions

This entry is also posted at http://owlmoose.dreamwidth.org/483165.html. There are currently comment count unavailable comments on DW.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 21st, 2010 10:21 pm (UTC)
I'm nodding my head a lot with your answers and saying, "We are the chorus and we agree, we agree, we agree, we agree" because you've said everything in such a coherent fashion.

This caught my eye:

"Creating original characters is always risky for a fanfic writer, because there are so many people who refuse to read stories featuring them. Using near-blank slate canon characters is, in some ways, a good compromise."

I hadn't even realized I was doing that, and I think you are completely and totally right.

I am so grateful to FFX for furnishing us with about 70 random Spiran names from Blitzball free agents. I use them shamelessly. Between those and the unnamed recurring npcs on Kilika, Besaid, Luca, Guadosalam, and the two ferries, there are a zillion blank slate npcs lying around with just a few tiny bits of characterization (e.g. Kiyuri, the bossy female sailor on the S.S. Winno, who gives Tidus several tongue-lashings; she pops up whenever I'm writing a sea voyage). In a few cases I had created original names and totally original characters, then, after compiling the FFX script, I found myself going back and choosing one of the "rude mechanicals" from the games instead.

Edited at 2010-07-22 02:24 am (UTC)
Jul. 21st, 2010 10:44 pm (UTC)
The plethora of minor characters is definitely helpful, and I've taken advantage of them, too. Sometimes I wish I had known about fandom's aversion to OCs before I wrote AGL and populated it with so many. On the other hand, then I might never have invented Kal, and I am not ashamed to admit that I love Kal. ;)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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