Pleased to meet you


One of the most common questions people ask writers goes something like: “Where do you get your characters?”  There’s also the inspiration variation on that question, but that’s a bit more vague, as everyone has their own source of inspiration.

No two authors approach writing with the exact same mindset and technique. Writing is an art form, and while there are certain methods and rules to follow, the process varies widely. In general there are two methods of creating characters. In method one, the writer happens upon, sees, or knows a person or often persons which by personality or quirks bring to mind a character. One could term this conscious character formation.  The other method is more subconscious in that the nebulous concept of the character pops into your head and as the story progresses the author discovers exactly who the character is. This is not to say that a character created by this method is not patterned after oneself or someone the author knows, but it isn’t done specifically.

Some authors might use a combination of the two methods, depending on the character and story. Others might use primarily one over the other. Understanding people, their motivations, emotions and ways people express their emotions are key to character development no matter how the character comes into being. How one achieves that understanding is an entire topic unto itself.

Personally, my characters tend to waltz into my head, introduce themselves and proceed with adventures. I discover them as I go along. Sometimes when I realize who they really are I find I’ve written a scene all wrong. Of course he/she wouldn’t respond that way! Until I know them, misunderstandings like that can happen. One of the most challenging tasks when learning to write is creating a voice unique to each character. This isn’t as simple as using slang or a specific “quirk” for each character. If done poorly it comes across as contrived. Creating the characters voice goes back to understanding the character.

For authors, our characters become very real (in a non-mental institute sort of way) to us. We build their life in our head, often far beyond the scope of the story the reader sees. It is that in depth knowledge of what makes them tick which we hope to translate into actions carried along by a plot. I find a personal thrill when a new character strides into the story and not only captures my attention, but says, “You’re writing my story next.” This is how I’ve gotten myself into writing two separate series.

So, for all you writers out there, how do your characters introduce themselves?

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3 responses to “Pleased to meet you

  1. My characters play out like movie scenes. I have told people I feel schizophrenic because I can see them clear as day, and hear their voices like we are having a real conversation. A friend once told me writers scare him, and so I asked why. He said because writers talk to themselves. I laughed and had to concede to that truth. My characters are made up, but I tend to see them first, and from their looks I can give actions, subtle movements, catch phrases, and personas. At this moment I am writing a character of a man that I want everyone to hate so much that loving to hate him becomes a key to his personality.

  2. Usually, mine just appear. And in my mind they are as real as anyone.

  3. Gee, this sounds so familiar somehow . . . LOLOLOL

    Mine come to play in various ways. When I let someone “take” my voice away awhile back, I lost my joy of characters and forgot that’s usually the primary reason I love or hate a book. Thank goodness I reclaimed my voice and got out of that dusty corner (spiders often hide there you know . . .)

    First off, when I read, I do not read the words, “A dog ran across the street, barked at the boy on a bicycle and grabbed his ball from the sewer’s jaws of death.” I see it in vivid technicolor. as a scene. Only upon those rare occasions when I stumble across a new word (YAYAYAYAYAY for new words) do I stop and “read.” Sometimes this is how my characters spring from my brainmeats.

    Many times, I let the story brew in the cauldron of my mind and (usually at the most inopportune time possible) the Muse whispers a sentence which starts a chain reaction and usually my main character springs to life, speaking to me and I have to start transcribing the conversation, which then leads to how they will look, feel, react etc.

    Sometimes, I use someone in my quirky characters file. I love to people watch and love stories people share about interesting folk in their lives and I just know they’d be perfect for a story, and so in they go. Of course by the time I get my hooks into them, I’ve created a whole other person based off of my interpretation, but it’s fun – kind of like a casting call.

    Back when I tried to be “logical” (when voice was hijacked) I would spend hours filling out one of those worksheets. Now, I’m not saying that worksheets aren’t useful, because they can make you think more about your character so you can nail them. But they personally don’t work for me to create someone from scratch in a story. I feel more like a gal with tangled puppet strings than a Pygmalion. I use them more for when I go to edit a story, if I need to at all.

    I do try to give them their own way of talking, walking and interacting (body language) by thinking about “what would X do and why?” And once every great while, a writing exercise will create someone very special out of thin air.

    Perhaps I should use some of my hot air typing, to go breathe life into someone and get their story out, instead of continuing on here . . . lol

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