30 Days of Writing #9: How Do You Create Characters?

9) How do you get ideas for your characters? Describe the process of creating them.

Ah, the dreaded ‘where do you get your ideas for such-and-such’ question! For it, I have the no-doubt equally-dreaded answer: ‘they just sort of come to me.’ I don’t know that any writer has all that satisfactory an answer for questions like these. Generally, of course, it starts with the story. Now, the story idea can come to me in a flash, as in I see something on TV, or a friend talks about something odd, or I read something that intrigues me, and a ‘what if’ occurs to me. More often, I won’t be able to point to anything specific as a trigger, save a number of thoughts that have been fermenting in the back of my mind for who knows how long. (This is, of course, why people who want to be writers should be voracious readers — the more you pour down into that murky hole, the more you have down there that can connect and gel and transmute until they jump out of the hole and stomp around in your forebrain until you are forced to get them out through your fingers into a story.

Once I have the story, the characters tend to follow. Frequently, the story I want to tell will be central to at least one character, so that’s where I start. I generally sketch out some ‘facts’ about the main character, who they are as the story begins, and who I see them being at the story’s end. If interactions with other characters are important to the story, these other characters will get sketched out as well. I don’t load on the detail too much, just enough to gain a starting point.

More details of the characters emerge as I write the first draft. I try to note specifics (such as appearance, background, relations with other characters, etc.) as I progress, but in the main, the personality of the characters emerge through the telling of the story, and these get refined through rethinking and redrafting. Doesn’t sound pretty, I know, but in the end, it gets me there.

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