My writing habits have changed over the years. I started out writing longhand, and I never made any character or world notes outside of what I put in my projects back then. Though I’m sure I had to pretty frequently skim or reread what I’d written to find plot threads and established worldbuilding and characterization info for later reference, I don’t recall doing so. Then again, it’s long been a habit of mine to reread my projects with some frequency as I write them, though as they get longer, I generally read only the four to six most recent chapters.
In recent years, I’ve developed the habit of writing worldbuilding notes in their own files. Now before, even with writing on a computer, I would have had issue with doing this. Previously, making a conscious effort to do this would have interfered with my ability to include the information, particularly if it related to a character in some way. This, however, has changed since I got back into writing my Fantasy and Science Fantasy.
These days, I’m much more comfortable with making worldbuilding notes from everything from deities to magical systems, to plants and animals—and even characters. It’s especially notable with the characters. Before, writing anything on them would have blocked my ability to depict them in my stories as I’d described them to myself privately.
A number of factors made this possible, I think.
The first, I think, is that I’ve matured as a writer. I needed to find my way into this ability, and part of that meant developing writing skills to the point where having a written-out character sketch would be helpful to me, as opposed to a list of characteristics and personality traits that felt like they meant nothing. To be able to do this, I needed to be able to see my characters as people, and I don’t think I did that quite so well before I got into the gay romances. See, the gay romances challenged me to come up with characters with different personalities, and I can recall as I wrote them how I began to do that—and how I began to comprehend my characters as individuals. This doesn’t mean I wasn’t able to individualize my characters before, this is just an indication that it became easier for me to see their natures and personalities with a clearer eye.
With this new ability to really see and differentiate my characters for myself came the ability to consciously create their personalities separate from the stories they were in. This was rather important for me, because, previously, I could see the characters only in relation to their story, and their backstory and personality traits came out as I wrote, which made for some characters who weren’t always consistent, no matter how hard I tried to make them be. They were a bit floppy in the realm of characterization, and that read, for a lot of my characters, as wishy-washy on things to some extent. They made decisions that didn’t make sense for the characterization I’d developed for them previous to the inconsistent decisions.
Since starting to write the gay romances, I’ve grown into the ability to preplan my characters’ personalities to some extent. When I got back into speculative fiction and started TPOM1, for example, I knew Géta was going to be a bit shy and uncertain once he was away from his home city and friends there. I also intended to do my best to make Asthané seem unsympathetic with regards to his relationship with Géta but also had very clear ideas on how to make it obvious he was really only gruff and grieving and not deliberately cruel, and that, though he lacked a lot of social graces, he was willing to do his best to rectify situations if notified of his trespasses and given an opportunity to do so.
With writing Masks, I’ve had to stretch my writing skills into new habits. One of the bits of advice in How to Write a Damn Good Mystery, one of the books and articles I’m reading on how to write mysteries, the author advises us to write out a character backstory summary of the murderer’s physiology (physical description), sociological dimension (background), and his psychological dimension. This, combined with a bio list from a friend’s roleplay website, has combined to give me just what I need to develop characters, and it’s working very, very well so far with Masks. The bio list has enough aspects to get me going on the summary below it.
I think another thing that’s enabled me to start writing things like this out is the fact I can see how helpful it is to have this information somewhere easily accessible. My mind isn’t always able to remember whether a particular character has a facial scar, or if a particular character has a personality that lends itself to being led; these are the things I used to have to skim over my previous writing for. With the bio list and the summary, all I have to do is bring up the file in Scrivener and read over the summary and bio and I have what I need.