The other night, while I was finishing up On Writing, a couple of new characters showed up to chat. They were a little impatient and I had to set my book aside to get to know them. I thought you might be interested in how I birth a character. Trust me it’s like giving birth, but without the ugly stretch marks.
Sometimes I have a story idea, complete with characters. Others, like now, I have a scene and a character or two. I quickly wrote out the scene in my head, I didn’t want to forget it. Sometimes my characters like to play a little hide and seek before they tell me their names. No problem, I just assign a letter to each character. In full disclosure, the characters in the initial scene have changed. Originally they were best friends, now they are sisters and best friends.
After I think, and ingest plenty of hot tea, I immerse myself in the characters. I write out a case file. I put every scrap of information I can think of in this file. Every thing as trivial as hair color to favorite band and religious affiliation. I add a simple family tree and finish with a description on how my character spends an average day. It’s important to include your characters temperament and how they react to certain situations. Give them a past, fears, and dreams. Your goal is to make them as ‘real’ as possible.
It’s important to remember not to focus solely on the positive. Everyone has flaws, bad habits, and vices. It’s so easy to love your character and want them to be perfect. Seriously, no one wants to read a story about a 6ft blonde who is a perfect wife, mother, and CEO. One who wears a size 6 in dresses and 38 D in bras. Everyone will hate her. Now take that 6ft blonde, give her split ends, freckles, flat chest or a little over weight. We can see her as not looking perfect. Add more flaws. Let’s give her a habit of kicking her husband in the ribs when he snores and she is a terrible cook. We like her more. For good measure her boss calls her sugar and her kids think she’s weird. That’s better. Look, don’t get touchy I just wrote this character in 5 minutes. She’s not fully formed yet. It’s just an example. Perfect people are boring.
Some of this is pretty basic and others may seem a bit extreme. I don’t go this in depth for every character or every story. If I’m writing a short story I usually just write a quick description of the protagonist and antagonist. But if I’m going to write a novel, I need to know my characters as well as I know myself. To be honest, I really enjoy getting to know my characters. Some writer’s may not need to go through this, but it helps me. But then I’m a list maker and a planner.
Now, I have two characters, sisters. They are different than I originally envisioned them. The changes were for the better. The problem I have now, they both want to be the protagonist. Hmm, just like sisters to disagree.
How do you create your characters? I need a another cuppa tea.