One of the hardest processes in writing a book is creating the characters which will fill the pages and bring the stories to life. It’s something I’ve struggled with from the very beginning.
A character can be very one-dimensional – often I’ll start off with nothing more than a very hazy idea in the deepest recesses of my mind. Sometimes a picture or photo will create the kernel of an idea. Other times, the character will pop up, clearly and distinctly and give me a good idea of what their story is going to be about. It is nearly always a picture which starts off the journey to a book, but in essence, the character is incredibly one-dimensional at that point. I know very little about the person I’m about to create.
The second step in the process is invariably finding a name for the character, which is one of my favorite steps in the writing process. It’s like giving birth to a new child and taking the time to choose the perfect name for your new little darling. A lot of thought and energy goes into this particular process for me, as the name gives me a greater indication of the character. Should they have a strong name, or a weak one? Modern or old-fashioned? What would fit best? What is their role going to be in the story I’m creating? I’m not sure how it works for other authors, but for myself, the name is an important part of weaving the character into someone.
Then I reach the hardest part of the summit – creating the character. With only an image and a name, the character is still very one-dimensional and it’s at this point that the anxiety and stressing begin. Sometimes I find that the character will begin to create him/herself, giving me insights into their personality, likes and dislikes, quirks. While this is my absolute favorite type of character, it certainly isn’t the norm – most of the characters in my books are remarkably reticent about providing their personalities and its up to me to decide what sort of person they might be.
This is where it becomes an intensive process. The easy part is creating how a character ‘looks’ in words. Dark hair, fair hair, ivory skin, the color of eyes, a limp, a tattoo, pockmarked skin… all these things are easy to create and describe, but it’s the internal workings of the person which form their character. To my thinking, this is the most excruciating part.
What does the character like to do? Do they have hobbies? What quirks do they have in their personality? Do they have any particular habits? Do they have family? What is their relationship with their family? What turns them on? What turns them off? Is there a food they love/hate? How do they feel about exercise/television/movies/restaurants/politics (the list goes on and on). All these examples (plus a multitude more) are what will move your very flat, one-dimensional character into a living, breathing three-dimensional character who the reader is going to want to know. Without some of these traits, they are just a description of physical beauty or ugliness, without the benefit of giving a reason for the reader to become emotionally involved.
I’ve seen and read about a number of tools authors use to create characters. Like most of my writing, I tend to work by the seat of my pants and the character’s personality becomes apparent as I write. Oftentimes, during edits I will ‘tweak’ the character – as they’ve become more well-known to my mind, I’ve developed a stronger relationship with them and know better what they will say or do and how they will react in certain situations they’ve been thrust into. (And yes, it’s all my fault they’re stuck in that situation, but I make no apologies!!) One of the reasons I find this part so hard, is that a lot of the characters ‘morph’ into doppelgangers of myself, and I find some of my own (quite bizarre) personality traits creeping in to the mix. My fears become the characters fears, my likes and dislikes can become the characters. It’s something I’m always trying to work on, in particular, to create characters that can confront and react differently and in ways I’m not always comfortable with, but will give the character the life and spirit which makes them unique.
It’s always tricky, it’s sometimes very hard to do, but ultimately, creating a wonderful new character who provokes an emotion is one of the most rewarding parts of writing.