We’ve been talking for a few days now on how to create characters. We’ve talked about the fusion of “physiology” and “sociology” to create “psychology.” Now it’s time to open things up for discussion.
Randy, how do YOU get to know your characters? My characters reveal themselves over the course of my writing. No long walks or conversations, they just pop up and tell me things whenever the mood strikes.
Randy sez: I often get a strong auditory image of my characters all at once and I’ll know how they talk. For me, a strong and unique voice for each character is important. I really can hear them talking in my head. Not quite audible, but I definitely can hear them as strongly as I can remember the voices of my friends.
For visual images of my characters, I go online and do a search for faces. I’ll find several people who look somewhat like my character and will choose the best features of each. In writing proposals, I sometimes include a graphic showing these faces.
For my character’s personal history, I just sit down and make stuff up that I think will fit. I work through the character charts (one of the steps in my Snowflake Method). I know what sort of person each character needs to be in order to fill in the slot in the story that I created them for. But then I augment what they “need to be” with just random stuff. Often, I’ll take personality attributes from several people I’ve known.
Of course, once I start writing, all of the above is subject to change. Often, it feels a bit like magic. You start writing, and suddenly the character gells. This happened when John Olson and I were writing OXYGEN. We had a character named Nate. Neither of us really knew what Nate would be like, but I wrote a sample scene early on with Nate as the POV character. The Nate who showed up was rude and surly and tough, but had an underlying softness to him. John really liked that Nate, so we agreed to keep him. If we hadn’t liked that Nate, we’d have thrown him away and created a new one.
Once I’ve worked out the basic plot for my story, I write a personal letter from the main character to the reader. Of course, the reader will never see this, but I guess it works things out in my head. In the letter, the character begins by telling his past and why he is the way he is today. Then he tells the story from his/her point of view.
I can’t tell you the surprises my characters have come up with on their own. I used to laugh at people who said their characters talked to them, but I’m telling you, it’s true. Since I’m writing as a Christian, I like to think the Holy Spirit has a lot to do with this. So many times, I’m amazed at how plot and characters come together with an incredible story AND message of God’s work in a normal person’s life.
So . . . when the main character is finished, I have the antagonist write a letter in rebuttal. He, too, begins by telling his past and why he is the person he is, but then tells the entire story from his point of view-thoughts, feelings, actions included.
After that, I usually do one more letter by the protagonist’s romantic partner or confidant.
Randy sez: I really like this idea. It’s similar to one I read last week in James N. Frey’s book HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD MYSTERY, which I blogged about just before I went to the ACFW conference. I think this method should really work well, and I intend to try it myself on my next novel, which I am composting in my mind right now.
I think we can plan our characters all we want, but when we sit down to start writing, that character will come alive in ways we never planned. That’s what makes writing fun for me and I know a lot of other writers who feel the same way. It feels like magic!
Any other questions on character creation? Go ahead and leave a comment. I’ll try to answer as many questions as possible on Friday night, since I’m going out of town (again) over the weekend to go to a wedding in California. I’ll be back blogging again late Monday night.