Monday, September 5, 2016

What To Do With Characters Who Don't Yet Have A Story by Katymarie Frost

Stephanie here! I'm excited for the chance to introduce Katymarie Frost, who pitched this article idea to us on how to create a "homeless shelter" for your characters. I think you'll really enjoy her ideas!

Katymarie Frost has never had a shortage of stories in her head, but she knew she wanted to be a writer from the moment a librarian called her “the next J.K. Rowling” after she won a writing contest when she was ten years old. It has been her dream to share the many tales her imagination has created and to give others a springboard for their own imaginations to take flight. Since then, she has started many different literary endeavors, but the first one she has been able to finish was what has now become Gateway to Aviandria. She is hoping it will be available to the public starting this fall. When she isn’t trying to satisfy her craving to spin fantastic tales, Katymarie stays busy spending time with her family, teaching violin lessons, and dabbling in costume design or other creative projects. To learn more about her book, or connect with her, visit her author website at www.katymariefrost.com.

On my bookshelves, nestled among three-ring binders containing old school projects and hashed notebooks, sits a small, yellow folder. It doesn’t look like anything special. Most people wouldn’t spare a second glance, but the folder has an important purpose. This is my shelter for homeless characters.
If you open the folder, you’ll find drawings of people and scribbled notes stuck in page protectors. I know the names of some of these people, but many of them I don’t. I have a fairly good idea what most of them act like, but a few are still strangers.
These are characters I have created, yet I don’t have a place for in any of my works in progress. I’m guessing a lot of you have these too. Perhaps during a trip to the mall, you have observed somebody who looked as if they could be an interesting personality, and you knew they just had to become a character. Or maybe you wrote a charming little scene in your story that introduced a character you really liked, but there wasn’t anything else for that character to do in the story, and you ended up cutting the scene.
These characters don’t have to fade away into oblivion just because they don’t have a home. They can be welcomed with open arms into the homeless shelter for characters until that day you are able to find the perfect role for them.
Here is how to set up your own shelter for homeless characters:
  1. Find a convenient location. Mine is the yellow folder with page protectors. Yours could be a three ring binder, or an accordion file folder. If you like to keep things in a digital format, you could create a file on your computer or phone. If you do that, however, make sure your notes are backed up. Whatever you choose, you will want it to be easy to put things in, pull things out, or rearrange as necessary.
  2. Record everything you know about the character. If you know their name, write it down. If you have a picture, include it. Describe physical features. List any personality traits you have thought of. If you use a character profile sheet, fill out what you know. You don’t have to know everything now. You can always fill in missing pieces as you learn them. Just record what you’ve already got. One thing I like to have is a list of names. Sometimes you just come up with a cool sounding name, but you don’t have the right character for it. Add that name to the list. I can almost guarantee, it will come in handy later.
  3. Visit your shelter. When your next story feels like it needs a character, use this resource and flip through your file of homeless characters. You may find the perfect fit. Or if you need inspiration for a new story, browse your shelter. One of these characters might start telling you their own story, which you can then turn into a masterpiece. Just don’t put your homeless shelter on the shelf and forget about it. Give these people a chance!
I can tell you, this really does work. Here is one success story. Meet Tarien and Jannae:
They were two characters I happened to create while doodling. When they first came into the shelter, they didn’t even have names. I had the pictures, and I knew Jannae was happy-go-lucky, and a bit reckless, while Tarien was somewhat of a perfectionist worry-wart, but that was about it.
They sat in my homeless shelter for a couple of years until I needed an idea for an outlining course I was taking. I found these two and the ideas started flowing. They received names, they became much better developed, and even became the stars in their own story.
It doesn’t end there, however. I still needed an antagonist, so back to my homeless shelter I went, and I found her:




Perfect! And while I was at it, I found this little fellow who really spoke to me, and suddenly I knew exactly how to use him in the story. In fact, he became downright important:




So, that is how it works. I got a good story idea, and four of my homeless characters got a home. It may take a little time to set it up and keep it updated, but it is worth it. This may just become one of your most valuable resources!

What do you do with your homeless characters? Do you have a place for them or a system you use to keep them organized?

44 comments:

  1. I have a stash of names that I like, as well as several characters who don't have a home in any of my WIPs. The majority of them came from story ideas I decided not to write for various reasons, but I felt like that character had a lot of potential and I couldn't bare to throw them away.
    Thank you for sharing with us Katymarie! Your cast of characters look very cool ;)

    -Bee

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    1. Thanks, Bee! I am so glad you didn't throw your characters away! It really seems like characters become friends after you have worked with them for a while. I hope they find a good spot to make another appearance soon.

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  2. A shelter for homeless characters is an amazing idea, Katymarie! I love it - I'm definitely starting one :D. And you're an incredible artist, those pictures are amazing!

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    1. Thank you so much Savannah! I have always considered myself much more of a writer than an artist. In fact, I kind of had to get brave in order to share those pictures with the world. I just usually end up doodling drawings of images that come into my mind as I listen to lectures or other things like that. I come up with a lot of characters that way. Best of luck on your homeless shelter for characters! I think you'll love having it.

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  3. This is a great idea! I am working on my very first book right now, and this is a perfect way to keep track of characters that I love, yet can't put into my story. Thanks for sharing this, Katymarie!

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    1. Oooooo! Good luck on your first book! Having too many awesome characters is always a good problem to have as long as you are wise enough to refrain from cramming them in one story (which it sounds like you are), and you have a good place to keep them so they don't get lost. I hope this idea works well for you.

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  4. This is a wonderful idea! There is one character that I created a while ago, but she doesn't seem to fit anywhere. I think I'll stick her in a homeless shelter of my own.
    Thanks so much for writing this!

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    1. I'm super happy if writing this helps a character find a place she won't be forgotten. I'm sure she would love a spot in a nice cozy shelter until you find a spot for her. Perhaps she'll get some friends there soon. Either that, or find a home. Hopefully both!

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  5. This is such a fantastic idea! I've been suffering from this problem lately, so I'll definitely have to try it.

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    1. Thanks Ellie. I hope this relieves your suffering. It's not a terrible problem if you can do something like this about it, but it can be painful. I love my characters, and I hate the thought of forgetting anything about them when I can't use them at the moment.

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  6. Thank you so much for sharing this idea with our community, Katymarie! We're lucky to have you!

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    1. Thanks so much for letting me share, Stephanie! To be honest, I have been kind of wishing I could write something for Go Teen Writers for a long time. It's kind of a dream come true!

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  7. What a neat idea! I will admit that I don't really have characters without a story. I have dozens of story ideas, but I rarely have character ideas by themselves. If I did, though, I would totally use this idea!

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    1. Thanks, Rachelle! It's fascinating how different people come up with story ideas. For me, many of my stories will start as a character in a situation, and just expand. For other people, the plot develops long before the characters. I think either way can work. Now, however, if you ever do have a character without a story, you'll know what to do!

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  8. DUDE. you got skeeeeels! *high fives* I keep a file on my laptop for book ideas, and just recently started one for characters. I got a really neat character idea the other day, but no story to go with it which has never happened to me before. It's usually the other way around. But now I have four character ideas and I'm super excited to see when I can next use them!

    Great post!

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    1. Thank you, Hannah! It sounds like you were already on top of this! I'm sure you are going to come up with an extra super way to use those characters.

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  9. I've never really had a character who didn't correspond to a story--to me the story idea almost always comes first, and then I make characters that fit. It's an interesting idea, though, and one that I will certainly keep in mind in case I ever run into characters without a story in the future. Great job, Katymarie!

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    1. Thanks for your comments! I've actually been a bit surprised at how many people don't have this problem. It's been kind of fun, however, to see that different ways of getting a story can all turn into something awesome.

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  10. I just started doing this! Only I use Pinterest boards because I love the visual, and it helps develop a story around the character. I like dealing with large casts, so I'm constantly adding characters which I have to take out later, combining characters, or swapping them out, so it's really helpful to save them. Homeless shelter is a great way to put it! (Sorry for any typos, my laptop glitches a lot).

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    1. This sounds like a great use for Pinterest! I might have to try it to have an electronic copy of mine. That way I could access it from any computer with an Internet connection. Cool idea. Thanks!

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  11. Cool post! I've never thought about saving up characters, though I do have a master file for names I've picked up which has been super helpful. I'll have to give this a try:)

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    1. I love having names! I need to work on building up my list again, since I've pretty much exhausted what I had. I hope this idea works for you and some characters. Perhaps your names will come in handy when you come across a character without one.

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  12. I don't do this exact thing, but have a similar mix of things. In my "office" I have a stack of small papers with individual names written on them that I have heard and liked that I will sometimes flip through. Then, on Pinterest, I have two boards dedicated pictures of people who I think look like interesting characters and for whom I will sometimes put descriptions with. Then I have another board where I pin any "recycled" ideas that have been cut from my novels, including characters. I like using pinterst for this because it is easy and backed up on the internet but can also be made secret.

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    1. I am becoming more and more convinced I need to utilize Pinterest with this. I have an account, but I hardly ever use it. Now I'm beginning to think I need to re-explore it. Sounds like your system works great for you. Thanks for sharing!

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  13. Wow! You are an amazing artist Katymarie! Making a 'homeless shelter for your characters is an awesome idea! Thanks for the post!!! I can't wait to read your book!!!! :)
    ~Jessica :)

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    1. Thank you for your kind words about my drawings, Jessica. I've never been very shy about letting people read my writing, but I do get slightly self conscious about my artwork. I hope you enjoy your own homeless shelter for characters, and I really hope my book is worth the wait!

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  14. LOVE this idea. I always have more characters than I know what to do with. I just had to cut a DARLING, oh-so-quirky character from one story because he wasn't carrying his weight... He definitely needs a place to go for a while.

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    1. Thanks Ashley. I so hate having to cut awesome characters! At least this way they aren't entirely gone. Maybe he will get an entire story of his own someday. Or at least a great part in someone else's.

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  15. This is such a cool idea! I love the idea of having it all in once place. While I do document my random character ideas, they're scattered abroad. I have a list of names I like in one notebook, and then random scraps of paper in random folders full of random story and character facts that take three million years to find if I decide I need them. If a character is super persistent and I get lots of ideas for them, but no real story, I'll make them their own pinterest board sometimes. But a shelter...oh, I may have to start one of my own. Great post!

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    1. Thanks Maddie! I love having everything in one place for easy access. I will confess, I'm not perfect at keeping it that organized all the time, but it makes such a difference when I do. I hope this helps you and your characters. Good luck with your shelter!

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  16. What a fun idea! I do have a file on my computer that serves this general purpose--I call it my Ideas folder, but most of my ideas are just character backstory, LOL. Love calling it a homeless shelter though. Perfect. =)

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    1. I think a lot of people probably have something similar. I guess calling it my homeless shelter just helps me feel more connected with my characters--like they're more human or something. I don't know if that's always an advantage, but they all hold a special place in my heart, whether they have a home in a story or not.

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  17. Good article, Katymarie! Like all your other readers, I love your artwork. I think they have a lot of character, and I especially like the medieval themes. I sometimes sketch out my characters to help get a solid visual, but it's not super easy for me, and I usually wait until I have a lot of info on them and a particular purpose for needing to draw them before I start. I have a few fun misfits who appear briefly in my first book that I'd like to use again, so maybe I should give them a homeless shelter to camp out in until then. :) Thanks for sharing, Katymarie!

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    1. Thank you for you kind words, Olivia. I love to draw my characters too. It's one of the things I do when I feel like I've hit a wall in my writing. Somehow doing something different, yet still related, helps put me back into the right frame of mind. There are one or two I can never get to look quite right, but I do it more for fun than for perfection. I'm sure your characters would love a shelter to camp out in until they find another good spot to appear. It sounds like a perfect spot for them!

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  18. I very much enjoyed your post, Katy! Thanks for sharing. I have lots of homeless characters but haven't thought of making a folder for them, which is silly considering my obsession with file folders. I think I will start an orphanage folder straight away! :-)

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    1. I am very happy if my idea can be of use to you! I never really thought of calling it an orphanage, but that works just as well. Hopefully your characters all get adopted eventually. Eventually, meaning soon, rather than later ;-)

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  19. This is a cool idea, Katymarie. I'll definitly be trying this out. I sort of already have a homeless shelter, but it's mostly filled with names and plot ideas. Though I did once add a character to it and now he has his very own story.
    Your drawings are really cool, by the way. I tried drawing a character once, but my art skills were a bit lacking and she didn't turn out how I hoped.

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    1. Yay! Another success story! That's awesome, Julia. And thanks for being so nice about my drawings. It doesn't usually turn out how I hope when I try to draw my characters either. I guess these ones were a little different because they started out as drawings, so I really didn't have expectations yet. I usually just draw stuff for myself and my own satisfaction, so I don't stress if they don't turn out perfectly. Don't give up on drawing characters if you like it. Just do it for fun.

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    2. I tried another character drawing again (not the same person though) and even though she didn't turn out exactly the way I pictured her it was still a cool drawing. I haven't really stressed about character drawings, mostly because I shared my story with a friend and she drew some awesome pictures of a couple characters. She's an amazing artist.

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    3. You are so lucky to have a friend that can do that for you! My cousin made the cover for my book, but as for just drawing out characters, I'm on my own.

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  20. Thanks for this post. I might just have to try the folder thing. My computer has crashed three times and I've lost tons of good writing so, it'd be nice to have a backup.

    Character typically come to me in the form of flash-fiction like scenes. Where I get an inspiration about their character and write 2,000 or so words on them. I keep all those stashed in an 'Inspirations' folder on my computer. Currently, though, I'm using a different tactic. I'm observing two people in my college classes and gathering as much info as I can about them. I'm hoping to have a full character profile by the end of the year. Of course I'll change names and genders and switch up backstories and stuff, when I put them into a story, but yeah. And I can't draw to save my life, so I don't create many stories that way. :)

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    1. I'm sorry about your computer, Hannah. That happened to mine just before I wrote this article. I was really lucky because I had emailed myself most of my big stuff just to make sure I had a backup. It sounds like you have some fun ways of coming up with characters. I have gotten characters the flash-fiction way before too. Usually that ends up stretching into a larger story, so they usually don't get as far as my shelter. Good luck on your observation characters. I haven't really tried getting characters that way.

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  21. I am most definitely trying this! Usually I just do the whole 'character résumé' thing and answer questions on them, get their MBTI personality type. I'm not very good at drawing though....do stickmen count? :)

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    1. Stickmen always count! I love stickmen! Pictures aren't required anyhow. I just get a lot of my character ideas from when I doodle while listening to things like lectures or lessons and stuff, so a lot of times that's what I have. With all that other stuff, you would have enough information to have some very good, viable candidates. Hopefully this helps them out, and and you!

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