Disintegrating Characters

PhotonQ-Homer' s Evolution Theory

How should a novel’s characters evolve? Should one create the characters before the plot or as the story unfolds? Do you do sketches before writing your novel?

My first novel, Spiral of Hooves, began life as a rough outline back in 2000, but went through various versions, with characters changing their names, motives, roles, and in some cases ceasing to exist. Other writers in my novel writing group tried to suggest improvements, which I attempted to integrate into my evolving patchwork of plot and counterplot. Thirteen years later and I am taking on board the comments from my US e-book publisher’s editors. And I need to check the voice of some of my characters and their motives.

Time to check my character sketches. Except the 2000 versions are sketchy, if they even exist; probably on dusty floppy discs. But it seems that they only evolved in my head, not as updated notes. Bad move.

English: Spiral made of Floppy discs

English: Spiral made of Floppy discs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So now I am producing new sketches and timelines as I check through the current manuscript. In most cases no old sketch exists so the page is blank, although I have an unfolding story to refer to, plus the scribbles in my head. Reminds me of writing character profiles in English Literature classes at school. Oh, and I need to create a timeline that matches the manuscript or at least shows where I have made errors.

Sounds like I’ve written my first novel in fits and starts, using multiple maps and asking the way from friendly faces that sent me via their favourite attractions. Just the basics to guide me so I must be a Pantser.

And here I am claiming to be a plotter. However I confess that almost all subsequent novels, now in various draft stages, have been plotted: detailed character sketches, timelines, scene by scene OR chapter by chapter outlines, and even research notes. But never set in stone, so when the first draft pours out, the unexpected and inspirational can happen. And my characters are often the ones driving the plots.

But which is best for characters sake? Pantser or Plotter? Will my plotted novels suffer the same fate as my first novel and spiral out of control, character sketches disintegrating as the timeline fractures?

Perhaps I need to upgrade my sketches more often, as the story evolves and the characters mature – like wine rather than cheese, I hope.

What do you do? What are your words of wisdom?

Creative Chinese Character Art

Creative Chinese Character Art (Photo credit: sinosplice)