Creating Characters

Who Am I?
1998 Tricycle Gallery, London – Selected works from first solo exhibition – Linett Kamala

For me, when a book takes shape in my head, it’s usually because one of the MC’s has rented room inside my mind and won’t rest until I’ve allowed him or her , they or them, to breathe. They come running from the darkest recesses ready to take on the world. I’m just there to give them the transportation, maybe to guide them along their adventure.

My characters come alive, become thinking, feeling entities inside my head. I know them so well that after a few chapters they take over and I just go along for the ride, usually with a few, “Oh, so that’s what you’re going to do, huh? I hadn’t been thinking of that,” comments along the way.

Personally, I feel like to bring a character to life, I want to to begin with as many details about them as I can. Sure, they’re going to evolve, but that’s what editing is for. I’ve had characters start with one personality and show me they were someone else, entirely as the story took shape. You really just have to be willing tot go with the flow.

Trying to force a character into a box they don’t want to be in will only lead to stagnation and a lot of frustration.

Let your characters surprise you, amuse you, disappoint and horrify you. It’s the plunge I’ve taken that has been the most enjoyable and rewarding as I’ve grown more confident in my writing skills. Maybe your heroine isn’t your heroine after all, maybe it’s that secondary character you thought was just coming along for comedic relief, etc. Or, maybe the heroine royally screws up, gets her ass handed to her before she plays to the arch of redemption.

Whatever it is, let it ride. You might be surprised how much better these new paths may be.

As far as character sheets, you name it, I probably write it down. Names, birth-dates, parents,s their birth-dates. Appearance, skin, freckles, blemishes, scars, tics, quirks, likes and dislikes. I’ll even include favorite foods, music, movies, and games.

If it comes to me, I have to put it down. I even try and do a little section on their memories. I may or may not use any part of these character details in the final piece. I just like knowing it’s there. I like knowing my characters.

Do you base your characters on people you’ve met? Parents, siblings, friends, enemies, etc? When it comes to general appearance, I might take a cute identifying marker and apply it where wanted, but overall, they tend to tell me what they look like and I go with it. I’m pretty obsessive about trying to find photos online that capture the overall look of who I’m writing about. In my current novel series, each character has a photo and I keep the photos up as I write. I helps keep in their headspace.

[I never use real photos of regular people, only images of stock, model, actor/actresses.]

How you keep track of your characters is up to you. I know some people keep charts, tables, spreadsheets, and the like. However, I tend to keep mine in a regular file. It reminds me of the days pre-computer when I would fill endless notebooks with characters and story ideas.

I am fairly neat about it, though. I separate by family groups and keep important characters close. I also end up doing sub-groups. For example, in my new series my MC has more than one romantic relationship, and so I have a document titled “Aaela’s Boys.”

In another sub-group I have her extended family, including those unknown to her at this time. It just helps me keep it straight in my head. Which is surprising, since I fall into the organized disarray category of stereotypical creative person with ADD.

How about you? Where do your character inspirations come from? How do you keep track of your characters? Are you obsessively neat or someone who flourishes amid disorder? How do your characters reveal themselves to you?

Let me know down below!

x – H

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