I have discovered over the last couple of weeks, that creating characters is something I’m rather good at! Discussions with other writers, and from blog posts that I’ve read recently, that this isn’t the case for most.
I’ve found this interesting, not that I believe I’m suddenly an expert on creating fleshed out and interesting characters, but it has made me question why.
Why am I good at this? What is it that I do that gives my characters an edge?
So, I went off and dissected a few thoughts, and a couple of my guys to experiment on, as well as hitting the research on the web and in my books. I came up with this list of reasons.
- I people watch. I am obsessed with human behaviour. I have quirks and like to figure out other peoples, for example, if I’m in a restaurant, I will watch how people hold their knives and forks. I watch how people carry bags, sit down, talk with their hands, hold their shoulders or head when they are listening to others. I concentrate so much sometimes on what other people are doing that I nearly forget what I’m supposed to be doing. This kind of information stays with you, it’s stored to be used later when a character needs a little bit of human behaviour.
- I love numerology. I’m not particularly good at it, but it serves a purpose for me and my characters. I add up names and decide whether the number suits the character and their place in my story. Funnily enough, this also gives me direction with that character, sometimes unexpectedly.
- I’m empathic. I find it very easy, too easy sometimes, to place myself in someone else’s shoes. I can walk into a room and sense the emotion within it quickly. When I was younger I would hug people I passed or speak to them for no other reason than I felt their sadness or loneliness, or just because I knew they would make me laugh! I met a lot of very good friends this way.
- Finally, I draw on history. Personal history, as well as actual historical fact. When I hear a name, I will instantly connect it to a person I once knew, any famous person associated with it, and it’s place in history. That being said, I don’t like to draw on reality for my fiction. (Except in one book that’s about sisters – One’s a trapeze artist and the other a nun… They’re based on mine and my sisters dream jobs when we were kids! True story…)
More than this, I like to play around with the psychology of a person. Not to any great extent, but just enough to get an idea of the core personality. Are they:
- Sanguine? Playful, sociable and lively. Are they talkative and warm hearted?
- Choleric? Ambitious, practical and extroverted. Are they good planners and at times restless or impulsive?
- Melancholic? Focused, conscientious and sympathetic. Do they become preoccupied with the sorrows of life, can they suffer with mood swings?
- Phlegmatic? Caring, thoughtful and ponderous. Can they be clumsy at times, and quite content with solitude?
I then move on to the deeper aspects of the character and their place within the story. I begin with the archetype they will represent. Are they my hero? My best friend, lover, mentor? Could they be the antagonist or a similar obstacle for my hero? Then I go for the personality defect.
As far as the protagonist and antagonist are concerned, they can be total opposites on this chart. But, whichever label you choose to associate with your character, a fear comes along with it.
Arrogance: A fear of vulnerability.
Self Deprecation: A fear of inadequacy.
Impatience: A fear of losing.
Martyrdom: A fear of worthlessness.
Self Destruction: A fear of losing control.
Greed: A fear of lacking love.
Stubbornness, in the middle, having a fear of change.
Now. Where do they fit in the story? Sometimes I have created a character that only has a small part to play, they have been absolutely necessary, as without them the plot couldn’t move forward. On other occasions I have spent so long shaping and forming someone, only to find out they didn’t belong, they weren’t even needed! So make sure they have their place.
With this in mind, I go on to give them a bit of a back story. Brief sometimes, let’s not get side tracked!
Which brings us to the fun stuff. This will come so easily if you’ve laid your foundations, similar to those above that work for me.
Let’s throw in some flaws and quirks. Deepen their fear and for good measure, add a secret. Try to keep these aspects of personality a little hazy, cloudy, almost dreamlike. Each will hint at where the character is headed, where they have come from and how they will react to certain disasters, plot twists, and their successes.
I also like to interview my characters, once I get to this point anyway… I ask them all sorts of questions and eventually they begin to develop habits, their quirks become animated and their humour shines through, they relax. Which, in turn makes my writing seem more relaxed and realistic.
What do I ask them? What would you ask anybody in order to get to know them?
How do you write your characters, do you have a similar processes?
Happy creating, and happy writing!