Characters are great fun. Don’t we all have our favorites? Maybe we love their wit, or clueless misadventures–I’m looking at you Bertie Wooster. Sometimes it’s a character we relate to: I’m fond of Monk, the tightly wound, obsessive-compulsive detective.
Many of my stories are character driven–which means I’m constantly surrounded by…you guessed, it…characters.
So the question comes up regarding how these personalities come to life. Do I plan them in advance? Do they spring into being in the moment? How do you keep track of them?
Take Essie Brightsday, a young blind girl and the protagonist of A Hero’s Curse. How did she get here?
That makes me chuckle. I don’t know how she got here, really. But when she did show up, it was important that I know a bit about her strengths and weaknesses. For me, that’s more important than eye color and shoe size. If I know a character’s weakness, suddenly I have a character arc. I know what’s going to be hard for them through the story and I know what they are going to need to overcome to be victorious in the end. Or, if I’m writing a tragedy, the weakness revealed at the beginning will spell the character’s doom by the end.
If I’m really stuck, John Truby wrote The Anatomy of Story and detailed seven “key steps of story structure.” I enjoy using those story structure points by applying them to a character.
“The seven steps are not arbitrarily imposed from without the way three-act structure is. They exist in the story. These seven steps are the nucleus – the DNA – of your story and the foundation of your success as a storyteller because they are based on human action.They are the steps that any human being must work through to solve a life problem.”
I’ll spend some time thinking through the points with my character, to ensure I have a good arc. When I’m satisfied with my new creation, I’ll let it go. This is where that character really develops a life of its own. New themes emerge, subtleties and quirks and hidden qualities that I couldn’t have planned. But that arc that was laid out–perhaps by working through Truby’s seven steps–that’s what allows this character to live and breathe and come into its own.
What about you? What are some of your favorite characters, and why? Comment below! And while you’re at it, check out the interviews from Patricia Reding and Robin Lythgoe ~ because they deal with characters too.
Author of As the Crow Flies
The answers are… Yes. And it depends! (Oops, my questionable sense of humor is showing!)
I tend to flesh out a few key characters briefly, but they grow from that organically. Every now and then random characters stroll into the story uninvited. I am not a fan of those “Get to Know Your Character” worksheets with a bazillion trivial questions, but I occasionally find them helpful when a necessary character refuses to take shape.
I do not have a shortage of inspiration. There are just so many interesting real people and characters from stories and movies from which I can pick little details! For example…
Author of Oathtaker
Oh, the fun of writing! When it comes to character creation: there are no rules! Sometimes, a character comes to mind, nearly fully formed. This might happen in particular, for those key parties who engage in the most important activities in a story. But even then, they can surprise me. The character may turn out to be an unexpected whiner, or to have an unusual sense of humor, or to manage success in the face of unexpected odds. Those things tend to happen quite by chance! For example, I have one minor character in my first story who I realized near the end, almost never said anything, although he was present for a goodly portion of the tale. Rather than go back and put words in his mouth, I . . .