Building Character: Methods

The Future Learn Fiction Course I’m doing has taken a bit of a back burner as I struggle to keep up with the rewriting of my novel. However, I’ve managed so far to keep on track even if I’m not able to dedicate as much time as I would like to exploring the suggested tasks and crafting my pieces.

building characterI don’t necessarily feel that I have learnt anything ground-breaking or new as yet. What I have discovered, however, is an understanding for the type of writer I am and the reasons I approach the craft as I do. This week’s focus has been on creating rounded characters and examining the methods by which we can begin the process. We looked at stereotypes and how to ensure that we don’t fall back on these types of characters in our fiction.

This was one of my early concerns with my novel – as I have a married, older doctor who sleeps with a younger nurse. However, I began to understand that it is exactly because this is a cliche situation that it works for my character: he’s becoming ‘that’ man that he does not want to be, fulfilling a stereotype. While originally they were having an affair, I’ve now changed this aspect of my novel to show they only have one night together; my character is so afraid of becoming the stereotype that he would not repeat the experience, no matter how lustful he feels. He also wants to stay faithful to his wife, despite his mistake.

The course has also provided a piece by Josip Novakovich about the different methods fiction writers use to create character. In a nutshell they are:

  • Ideal Method: creation of a character from intellectual methods, not using observation or other aspects but instead making them up from scratch.
  • Autobiographical Method: using your own experiences to influence your character creation, it may only be an element of yourself, but some part of you will always diffuse into your characters.
  • Biographical Method: Using observations of others to stitch characters together and researching people in order to influence how your character behaves.
  • Mixed Method: Taking elements of all of the above methods to create a unique character.

I would immediately have said that I was much more of an ‘Ideal method’ writer than the others, because characters tend to appear in my writing fully formed – though I don’t always understand them as such. When I write them, they react how they want to react and I end up having to work out why this might be so. Because of this, then, there must be some ‘Autobiographical’ element to my characters, otherwise I would struggle to understand their reasoning or reactions to things. Similarly, I have also noted ‘Biographical’ eccentricities that weave their way into my characters, often unrealised until I am with someone real and I think ‘my character does that’ – when, in fact, I have simply assimilated this from the person I know and dropped it into my character without seeing the apparent connection.

So, as it turns out. I’m probably more of a Mixed Method writer than I thought, though some of the approaches I take haven’t always been used consciously.  Perhaps now I will be able to take more notice of how I am building a character up and where these elements originate from.


What method of creating character do you use? Do you think there are any other methods to build a character for fiction?
Share your thoughts in the comments below, or Tweet Me.


2 responses to “Building Character: Methods

  1. I’m also finding that this course is causing me to think more in depth about things I previously did subconsciously. As for creating characters, I tend to use the mixed method with a lean towards biographical – which is why I used the ideal method for the assignment.

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