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?