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.