I've always thought of myself as a "the characters just walk in" type of writer, and that is mostly true for novels, which take a long time to grow from a seed. My usual example is my fantasy murder mystery, which started with a clear image of Huw. Everything grew from that one image of a young man, travel-weary and down-at-heel stepping out through a gateway. The odd thing about him what that he was on foot, but carrying a saddle. His appearance was more or less fixed from the start -- small, wiry with dark curly hair -- though the picture came more sharply as I kept on asking questions: who was he? why was he on foot? where had he come from? where was he going? what was going to happen next? As I started to write the novel, then details came as needed.
Not all my stories work that way. It seems tidier to claim to be one kind of writer or another, to say, "Oh, I always start with an outline," or "I start with a character," or "I start by asking 'what if?'" or "The little pink fairy rabbits with wings dictate the stories to me as I meditate in the garden," or whatever.
But in reality I use just about any method known to writers[*]. I've started with characters, I've started with plot, I've started with place, I've started with a "what if?". I've written by hand, straight onto computer, I've drawn diagrams of various kinds, designed scene planning sheets, tried freewriting and even experimented with dictating to a digital recorder and getting the computer to transcribe it.
So any new method of creating stories or bits of stories is of interest.
I'm currently slipping a little behind on the creative writing course. Though being made redundant in theory gave me lots of free time, in reality it's been disruptive as I've not had a routine and I can never write when going through emotional upheaval. Anyway, I am beginning to feel more settled, so I'm now trying to catch up with the A215 activities.
Which are all about character creation.
My first reaction was, "Oh, I don't need to do this, my characters just turn up when needed."
Well, I suppose they do when I have time to let a story mature, but now I'm having to write short stories to order for the assignments, they're not turning up fast enough. Also, to be brutally honest, central casting does have a tendency to send along characters that are a bit, well, bland.
The reason for doing A215 in the first place is in an attempt to kick my writing from the Good Amateur level to the Pro level. I also know that my biggest enemy is Niceness and Blandness. But I was sceptical about one of the methods suggested in what we on the course call the Big Red Book (or BRB for short). The idea is that people's faces are asymmetrical. They suggest that you study someone and see the face as two halves rather than a whole. You then ascribe a personality to each half and thus you can create a more complex character. The ones they suggested were: artful dodger/serious student/ romantic poet/traffic warden; warrior/playboy etc. Well, I was sceptical. Firstly I knew I wouldn't be able to do it with real people because I wouldn't be able to do it without a lot of intense staring that would be just wrong. So I looked for pictures on the net. And played with them in PhotoShop and lo and behold, it does work. I'm going to use Male 2 and Female 2 for a short story that's in progress.
I don't think I'd use it for major characters, but it could be a way of making walk on and supporting characters a bit more individual and less bland.
[*] Apart from the little pink fairy rabbits with wings. Though if there were any at the bottom of our garden, I'd be down there with my note book like a shot!