Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Who In The World?!

How do I create characters? Gee, I really don't know. They come to me in different ways. Sometimes it starts with a name, other times a situation. Sometimes I'm writing a story and secondary characters fall from my fingers onto the keyboard complete with name, job description and background. (Those are usually going to be the most fun to write- since they "talk to me.") But whatever method I use, I employ one strategic piece of weapondry - my character sheets.

When I write novels, I find it immensely helpful to interview my characters to learn about their lives and what motivates them. I ask them questions that range from their favorite song and group to the most outragous thing that ever happened to them. Getting inside the character's head is so important. Knowing where they came from socially, financially and spiritually contributes to how they ended up at the place and time in which they appear in the novel.

Ever heard the phrase, "everyone has a story,"? Since we are the ones creating them, we need to know as much about them as possible. I'm not a writer who creates characters from people I know. They may be composites of several people in my acquaintance, but if they are I am unaware of it. I tend to think of them as their own separate entities, with thoughts, feelings, emotions, ambitions, likes, dislikes, loves, hates, and things them make them go hmmmmm.


I try to give my character traits that will help them in the story. For instance, in my novel Idolatry, the hero Campbell McGinnis loves to build puzzles. Not just your average 500 piecer of Mt. Rushmore or dogs playing Frizbee, but the cool 3D ones of world landmarks. This skill comes in handy when he and heroine, Ella Fitzpatrick-Sims find fertility statues that when fit together create a key. Not only was the trait useful to the advance the plot, but it also gave me a couple of nice scenes with Mac building his puzzles with much care, and Ella's hyper-active Westie distroying them.

Personality: I think it depends on the book. I noticed most of my heroines tend to be very outspoken with a bit of a flip sense of humor (Gee, I wonder where they get that from?) But the character has to fit the situation. A cheery Pollyanna in a very dark gothic might not work so well.

Jobs: Again it depends on the book. The heroine in one of my current WIP's is a bartender who is in grad school getting her Masters in social work. Another heroine is a typist in a typing pool in 1910, New York. In another WIP, my hero is a contractor who specializes in restroing historical buildings. This is intregal to the plot since the main trust of that book is a castle haunted by the souls of those who died in in years before, and he is the man restoring it. The book would not have worked if he was say, a cop, or a baker.

Whatever method employed for creating characters just remember they should all be realistic, with both flaws and attributes. Making them as human as possible—even if they come from light years across the galaxy—is key to making your readers love them.


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Lynda K. Scott said...

Kat, you hit on something that I try to do -- make a character trait or skill integral to the plot. Again, it seems as if character is growing the story and not vice versa :D

Savanna Kougar said...

Isn't it fascinating when secondary characters just sort of drop onto your keyboard as your writing. I don't know, there's just something magical about that to me, the feeling of it as it occurrs. A wow factor.