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.

30 Days of Writing #3-4: Names for characters and places? First story?

Questions 3 and 4 I don’t have a lot to say on, so I’ll do both in one post:

3) How do you come up with names for characters (and for places if you’re writing about fictional places)?

I don’t really have any set ‘way’ for doing this. Usually, one name, either first or last, will occur to me for a particular character, and I’ll cast about for the rest of the name so as to come up with something that sounds distinctive without calling attention to itself as The Writer Being Clever. Rarely will I go hunting for a name based on its ‘meaning’ as described in various baby name books and websites, though often once I have a name I’ll take a peek at said ‘meaning,’ just to satisfy my curiosity.

4) Tell us about one of your first stories/characters!

Twilight Zone-ey, and someone, possibly a ghost, got impaled on a bunch of spears at some point. I remember it as having stood out from the other stories being written by my classmates–slice of life High School stuff, near as I can recall–but no more than that.

30 Days of Writing #2: Character count and gender preference?

2) How many characters do you have? Do you prefer males or females?

There’s no way I’m going to try to count all my characters from everything I’ve written, of course. There are about eight or nine ‘major’ characters in my novel, Brutal Light, plus a handful of minor ones and the usual hordes of the unnamed and unnamable. To be honest, I’m not quite sure what this question is intended to reveal; to me, quantity alone is meaningless, whether it has to do with word count or character count or whatever else count.

‘Preference’ is a different matter. Being a guy, I suppose I find it ‘naturally’ easier to write from the perspective of a male character, but not to a degree where I feel an actual catagorical preference. If I know enough about a character to where she or he is more than just the sum of her or his ‘categories,’ it matters less to me what those categories actually are.

(Of course, it should be noted that whether or not I can successfully write a character who occupies categories other than my own is a different question, and a different debate altogether. Which is why I’m leaving it for a different day.)