Character Mapping is a technique that I find extremely helpful in developing my characters as fully realized individuals. There are many different elements to character mapping, but, in my opinion, these are three of the most important:
#1. Backstory: This is one of the most essential aspects of character mapping. It is impossible to understand a character’s motivation, and why they act the way they do, without having a fully developed backstory. I like to create a character map for every single one of my characters, even the small, even those characters who are seemingly inconsequential. This may sound like a tedious process – but making a character map at the beginning of my writing process, helps me to write more fluidly later on. I try to include information, such as genealogy, life experiences, and personal tastes, from the moment of a character’s birth, right up until the moment I introduce that character into my story. I find that having a character’s life story available in front of me is synonymous with the relationship between siblings, or very close friends. Once you know everything (or nearly everything) about someone, you can predict the way they would act in any given situation. The same is true for a well developed character.
#2. Influences: Examining what influences a character goes part and parcel with developing that character’s backstory. Specifically, I like to explore the causality of those influences in my character’s lives, after I’ve developed their backstory.
If I decide that a character is going to be adventurous – and perhaps initiate a quest or mission, I need to go and see what in that character’s backstory would make that character so adventurous. Were they well-travelled as a child? Have they led a sheltered life, and yearn for an adventure?
Having a backstory is essential – but finding the causality between events in that backstory, and the decisions your characters might make based on those influences, is what really makes characters feel real!
#3. Anecdotal Evidence: This is another aspect of character mapping that is closely related to backstory. It can greatly help to flesh out a character’s personality.
If I decide that my character hates peas, I can create an incident in their childhood, where that character became violently ill after consuming peas, and thus their hatred of peas begins.
While something as trivial as a hatred of peas may seem insignificant to storytelling, I find it extremely helpful in thinking of my characters as fully realized people. When I am actually writing the story, I don’t usually include anecdotal evidence, unless it is integral to the story. But it definitely helps me to write in a manner that is true to my characters. Anecdotal evidence is also extremely important when writing novels in series. By including anecdotal evidence in my character maps, I can easily refer back to that information on the 3rd, or 5th, (or 15th!) novel.
Do you use character mapping techniques? What works, or doesn’t work, for you?
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