Erotica Writing Series: Blog #2
The Importance of Character Development
The individuals in a story are more than just important – they’re essential, critical. We want our readers to identify with their situations, we need the observer to connect with their personalities. Truly great novels engross the audience in the character’s plights or pleasures, fights or fancies. The primary means by which an author captures our attention is by stirring sympathy and compassion for, or at least identification with, the protagonist and supporting characters.
Authors often go so far as to create empathy for a villain, someone we love to hate. To achieve this level of connection, we need to develop their personalities. A great way to do this is to create personal biographies for each of the main and supporting characters, to document their histories, quirks, likes and dislikes.
I suppose there are cases where bio development isn’t required or is deemed unnecessary. Short stories and poetry are a couple of examples. Sure, there may be characters involved, but in many cases, they don’t require lots of background and personality. But, these are the exception, and certainly not the rule.
How Much Energy Should You Devote?
I tend to spend a considerable amount of time creating bios for the people in my stories. In comparison to the overall time it takes to write and edit, this process ends up being very short, but I likely spend more time than do many authors in my genre. Erotica does not necessarily require lots of set up before jumping into the “action”.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should also spend considerable time building up your characters, though. Some authors will insist that it should be done. The reality is, however, that you know the story, and how it should be told, better than anyone. Only you can say how important the strength of your characters will be to the telling of your tale. If the focus is really on the situation or about a particular location, or if their personalities just don’t play into the overall experience of the reader, then don’t worry about developing your characters so formally. It’s your story, tell it in whatever way feels right to you.
How Bios Fit Into My Stories
In my case, I write novels made up of many short stories (typically 4,000 to 6,000 words per story) that are progressions of the same characters. In fact, my first twenty plus stories and initial book are about situations in which I’ve personally been involved. The supporting characters were friends of mine and, so, I already know them very well.
I do have several other lines of stories that revolve around unique casts of characters. This is where I go to great lengths in creating biographies, by finding pictures, chronicling histories, writing their likes or dislikes, thinking up hobbies, etc. I may not even end up using some of the elements I write, or I might change a few of the details as I move full force into the writing process. But, the more thorough my private descriptions, the stronger my own knowledge of, and connection to, the characters.
Creating thorough bios prior to writing does the following:
- Connects me to the characters – If I can’t connect, how will my readers?
- Ensures that my descriptions throughout the stories will remain consistent – I have a difficult time remembering their hair color from one chapter to the next.
- Provides interesting interactions between characters – Do two characters both have an affinity for sports? Are the main characters opposites, creating an intense attraction? Do they remind each other of lovers from their past?
There are lots of other reasons to take this creative process just as seriously as the rest of your writing, but you can see how easily it will add to the quality and complexity of your resulting works.
When developing leading (and supporting) personalities, I follow this process:
- Determine who I need and their genders
- Find a visual representation of each character
- Give them all names
- Physically describe their looks, bodies, stature
- Document their backgrounds
- Find one primary “purpose” in their life
- Create a list of likes/dislikes, behaviors, temperament, etc.
- Synchronize them with each other
Where to Begin
The internet provides an easy means of developing characters, or at least, starting their development. Once I’ve decided the main characters needed to tell the story, as well as their gender, I go straight to Google Images. I’m very visual, and finding an appropriate likeness provides a constant reminder of their physical description. It allows me to easily describe their physical attributes.
My main reason for initially focusing on appearance is to ensure that my descriptions remain consistent. If a guy flips his hair to the side, I want to say more than just “Brandon moved his hair to one side”. I would much rather write something like “Brandon ran thick fingers through the curly, jet black hair, sweeping it from his forehead” (okay, I would go back and edit that sentence so it doesn’t sound so clunky, but you get the idea).
Here are a couple of example images I’ve used as inspiration:
Stuart Reardon (taken by Gilles Crofta Photography)
Stuart Reardon and Michelle Lewin are obviously very attractive people. But I chose these images in particular because their expressions tell us quite a bit about their personalities. Stuart is intense and analyzing, though I suspect has a strong, jovial laugh when he hangs out with friends. Michelle looks confident, genuine, pensive. She speaks only when there’s something important or relevant to contribute. Appearances tell their own story.
The names of characters are important. What time period are they from? In what country were they born? What nationality are their parents? All of this plays into their names. If Michelle is from Colombia, I might give her a Colombian name (in actuality, she’s Venezuelan but I already had a female Venezuelan character). However, if she’s Colombian but born in America, or if her family has been in the US for several generations, I might give her a more American name (like Michelle).
In the end, I gave Stuart the name Brandon and Michelle became Sandy. Since Sandy is part of a close group of girlfriends, I assigned nicknames to all the girls. In Sandy’s case, she’s known to the others as “Babe”. Nicknames can be a good idea for a few reasons:
- It shows intimacy and comradery among characters
- The author can switch between the narrator using Sandy and dialogue that refers to her as Babe
- The readers have more familiarity with the character
I always write physical descriptions of each character (fairly high level attributes), even though I already have an image for reference. Some of their physical descriptors are obvious, but I typically document them anyway. This helps me keep things straight if I decide to make slight modifications for the story (I might want to change their hair length, eye color, etc.).
Here’s my description of Brandon (Stuart):
Name: Brandon Beckett
Physical: 6’ 0”, 190 pounds
Short, curly, Jet black hair; trimmed facial hair; dark, piercing brown eyes; tattoo sleeve and across one side of chest; muscular, trim, low body fat.
Background and Purpose
The background is useful for mixing in back story. Where were they born? Do they live elsewhere now? Have they retained their accent? How close are they to family? Are they divorced, in a relationship, single? Did they attend college? All of these questions and more allow the author to mix in relevant details from their past in order to explain how they view the world or approach particular relationships.
A character’s purpose is either their motivator or the primary activity in life (like their career). For Brandon, it’s European Football. It’s what he’s worked toward all his life, being a Football star. In reality, Stuart is a Rugby player, but I know more about Football than Rugby. I certainly wouldn’t want to portray rugby incorrectly due to a lack of knowledge, a likely scenario in my case. For other characters, I might focus on a motivating factor, like a life changing event that alters how they respond in situations (the death of parents at a young age, as an example).
Likes/Dislikes, Behaviors, Temperament
These traits are important for giving the character life and personality. Readers develop a connection when they understand a person’s fears. We get an idea of who they are if they’re into sports, reading, camping, sailing, shopping, cooking, etc., or when the person is a homebody versus a world traveler.
As authors, we’re better able to write if we know the character’s fears or vulnerabilities, how quiet or boisterous they can become. I tend to include how deep their voice is or how timid they would be in a room full of strangers. Their “presence” allows me to change their behaviors based on circumstances in a more believable way.
Linking Characters Together
The last thing I do is to map my characters together. I do this in several ways:
- Across time – When did each of them first meet? Did they know each other in school?
- Via backgrounds – What past do they share in common?
- Among personalities – Which characters have similar interests or behaviors? Which are polar opposites?
All of this is especially important when there is a web of people involved. In the string of stories that include Sandy and Brandon, there are seven characters (so far) – I started off with four and added one at a time. That’s a lot to keep track of! Document each of your characters, so that your life, as well as that of the reader’s, will be significantly easier as you progress through your story. Remember that if you have a difficult time keeping characters and their relationships straight, it’ll be much more difficult for the reader.
How to Use the Final Result
The final bio I wrote for Brandon looks like this:
Purpose: Football (European)
Physical: 6’ 0”, 190 pounds
Short, curly, Jet black hair; short facial hair; dark, piercing brown eyes; tattoo sleeve and across one side of chest; muscular, trim, low body fat.
Status: Single, never had long term girlfriends (not enough time with football)
Country/Nationality: British, from Bradford England; still lives in UK, fairly strong accent.
Presence: Quiet in most situations, deep, penetrating voice when he uses it; an obvious presence in any room. Even temperament unless, on rare occasion, is angered – then booming and commanding
Dislikes: Being out of control/vulnerable, showing feelings
Likes: Sports, fitness, travel, being center of attention, modeling
Links: Met Michelle through Long; casual relationship with Long on and off for several years before being introduced to Michelle.
I keep all bios and pictures in a separate document and leave it open on my screen. This way, I can check back immediately when I need a refresher while writing a particular scene. It allows me to resist the urge to simply draft the characters as I remember them in my head, assuming I’ll go back and correct it later. Often times, I forget to check the details later and will miss a critical inconsistency.
Everyone develops their characters in different ways and, of course, this doesn’t have to be the process you follow. If you decide to develop your characters, start with a process that has worked for others, then tailor it for yourself. You undoubtedly won’t regret taking extra time to document your characters, even if you use their biographies less than you anticipate. But if you skip the process entirely, you’ll almost certainly regret not having the information ready and available while in the midst of writing complex scenes.
Love and Sex!