What a Character!

Everybody has favorite characters.  Whether from books, movies, or television, characters can stay with you long after the story ends.  Not that I don’t enjoy a well-crafted plot, but the stories that I remember best are ones with characters I either relate to or simply enjoy.

From the classics: Elizabeth Bennet, Scout Finch, Jay Gatsby.  From popular fiction, my favorites include Harry Potter (and Fred and George Weasley), Amelia Peabody, Ramses Emerson, Harry Dresden, Percy Jackson, and Stargirl.  Of course there are many more.  And your list will be completely different from mine.

So, how do writers come up with these memorable characters?  The answer is as varied as the characters they create.

There are those writers who have characters appear in their heads and just start talking to them.  They listen to the characters to find out their traits and what they look like.  I read somewhere that J.K. Rowling said Harry Potter appeared in her head fully formed.  This, sadly, has never happened to me.

I usually create my characters through the “what if?” technique.  Whether to fit the constraints of a plot or just a simple scenario, I’ll ask myself that question.  For example: What if a teenage girl walked out of her house and started ripping the flowers out of the flowerbed?  Why would she do that?  Why is she so angry?  Who is this girl?

Once I have the answers to those questions, I may find I have a character that I’d like to get to know better.  If that’s the case, then I work on developing her traits and background.  Sometimes, I’ll have written conversations with this character to find out what she thinks about the situation she’s in.  (That’s the closest I come to having my characters talk to me.)

Another method is to come up with a plot and develop characters that fit within it.  This may seem less interesting, but it’s all a part of the creative process.  I wouldn’t be surprised to find that there are writers who combine the methods I’ve mentioned or who have a completely different way of developing their story people.

After all, the goal is to write the best story you can and hope your characters have made an impact.

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4 Responses to What a Character!

  1. Jennifer says:

    It’s interesting, I always have my character come from the plot. 9 times out of 10 I know the plot, before I ever have an inkling of an idea who my characters are going to be.

  2. Jeff says:

    I’m finding that with the middle-grade historical fiction manuscript I’m working on that characteristics of the protagonist are developing right along with the storyline. I wish I had a more lucid vision of both, but for a first try, I’ll just have to keep plugging along and see how both unfold.

    However, for a picture book manuscript I wrote recently, the main character, a hideous troll named Rufus, it was the main character (or creature in this case!) that came to mind first. Then the full story followed rather easily.

  3. Emilie says:

    My books typically “start” with character, but my WIP trilogy started with the setting, which is WWII in the Midwest. My main character came to me first as an example of a historical group, British “sea-vacuees” who were sent abroad to escape the war. She grew into her own person, but that was her spark. A few members of her family have also been created in similar ways, particularly her uncle and aunt. It’s hard to let those characters behave as real people sometimes, but it’s also a way to delve deeper into the period. Great post, Tricia!

  4. Tricia says:

    How fun for you, Jeff, that you’ve been able to create character in different ways. I love it when that happens.

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