I am thrilled at the moment, thrilled and mentally exhausted. Why? I have been brainstorming and character-building, for the first time as a major part of the job since I don’t know when. Why am I brainstorming? Because it is AWESOME!
I think I forgot during college how important ideas can be for stories. Though I won’t blame it on being an English Major, I will say English courses frequently de-emphasize inventiveness in favor of form. That might be part of my problem for the past few years. I’ve written scenes that excited me from a form perspective, but hardly as often as I have from the character or idea perspective.
Where have my characters been these past two years? In my head it turns out. I think on the page, but I have forgotten the implications of that. If I don’t write down my ideas the characters diminish over time. I need to take notes just on them sometimes, and just on their personal stories, and just on the buildings sometimes, and the list of things to take notes on grows and grows.
As far as technical stuff, I’ve found this form by Dave Robison (Of the Roundtable Podcast) that he calls the “Character Foundations Form” is darn useful. I’ve found it has an incisive as well as extensive set of prompts. It’s not what the character has in her purse. It’s more about big stuff, which appeals to me. It’s in PDF form on the Roundtable Podcast site, but its buried, so here is a link – http://www.roundtablepodcast.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Character-Foundations-Form.pdf
As far as additional advice, I have to say the following bit has been helpful for me (I heard in it on the Writing Excuses Podcast, I think).
Step 1: For protagonists take the perfect character for the job they’ll have to do in the story world.
Step 2: Throw out the perfect protagonist you’ve come up with.
Step 3: Come up with some additional characters that COULD do the same job as the protagonist.
Step 4: Fill the role with someone who isn’t as skilled at it.
Step 5: Profit.
For protagonists this process reminds me of routine checks in D20 RPGs. In a D20 game a character can ‘take 10’ on a check, which gives them an average level of success if they’re decently good at something. A protagonist should not be able to ‘take 10’ and succeed in the main conflict of a story.
I also think it pays to practice a lot, but that’s a story for another day. I’ve got to keep brainstorming characters because this story is fairly complex.