The Origin of Characters


Found on Google images.
Found on Google images.

I had a non-writer friend ask me some very interesting question the other day. She wanted to know where characters came from. How do we writers come up with them? What inspires them? What exactly are they?

These questions are difficult on a number of levels but they intrigued me because I’ve never really thought about it before. Characters simply ARE for me. They have been a part of my consciousness for as long as I can remember. But more than that, they are a part of me and who I am. One day they just appear and from that point on, they exist.

These questions are hard to answer too because each writer creates differently. Each writer’s experience with his/her characters is different and the experience for a sole writer with a variety of characters can be very different.

So, here is how it work for me.

My characters tend to evolve in different ways. They always, of course, begin with an idea. Sometimes it’s an idea for a story. At other times, it’s an idea for a character. I have one character who has been bouncing around in my head for 13+ years because I had a vision (not a real vision) of her and who she is, but she had no story attached to her. Her story did not come until probably a year ago or more. Her look was anime inspired, even though I’ve never been into anime. But she has that appearance through her clothing. She’s followed me around for years and only more recently have I begun to tell her story. I’ve written the first section which leads up to her story and will begin on Book 2 (her story) after I complete my edits on my novella.

Sometimes a character becomes so much a part of my life that I feel like I could downshift into their voice and react as if I were him or her. That’s a very strange feeling and it is rare for me. Other writers let the character take over. And I can do that in my writing, but sometimes it takes quite a bit of effort to get there.

I have one character who I always want to let take over in real life when I get angry. She was a warrior, reminiscent of Boudica, though I had no idea who Boudica was when I imagined her. That was a really weird experience. The day I learned about Boudica, I couldn’t believe the number of parallels that existed between her and the character I had created. Anyway, for some reason, when I feel angry, I can sometimes feel that character stirring inside of me. For some reason, my anger brings her back to life in my mind.

Frequently when I write, I create characters who possess skills that I wish I had. They are braver than I am and they are adventurers, at least when I’m tied up in the realm of Fantasy or Dystopia. My characters tend to be pretty robust as I am highly influenced by literary fiction. Plus, I was trained to analyze literature, so I sometimes consciously place little nuggets throughout a story. This helps them feel multifaceted and real to me. At other times, these little surprise connections just happen and I don’t realize it. Here’s an example: In my forthcoming novella, The Green Lady, the main character is a descendent of the Remingtons. Yet, he has never fired a gun. Throughout the story he carries a gun and each time he tries to use it, his attempt is thwarted in some way. This was funny to me on a number of levels. First, it was funny that he was a descendent of people who create guns, yet he doesn’t even really know how to use one. Second, it was funny to me that his attempt to fire it gets thwarted because of the adage from theater which says that if a gun appears in scene 1, the play can’t end until it is fired. I like to screw with things like that…

Anyway, back to characters. Some writers will have dreams that inspire their stories and their characters. Stephen King is notorious for using his dreams as inspiration for his novels. Frankly, if I were him, I doubt I’d ever sleep again. He clearly has some really effed up dreams!

My very good friend J.R. Boles dreamed the signature scene of her story and this scene became the basis for her entire trilogy, The Bringer Trilogy. You can read the first book of the trilogy, Bringer of Light, which contains the paramount scene now.

I have not yet dreamed up a story or a character. My ideas generally come out of nowhere and I tend to work through them with an outline. As I write, they grow and become more life-like and then, of course, during the editing process I have to make changes to the earlier parts of the story because the character has changed from where he or she began.

Characters are strange. Not everyone can conceive of characters and create people or creatures out of thin air. I don’t know what that experience is like because I’ve always dreamed up new people and new ideas. I don’t know what it’s like to not be able to create because I have always created.

Fellow writers, how do you create characters?

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3 thoughts on “The Origin of Characters

  1. “One day they just appear and from that point on, they exist.” YASSSS. THAT. So very that. Awesome post, as always! ^_^

  2. I think I usually have the premise for a story first, and then I think, What type of protagonist would fit this story best? In the story’s world and its plotline, what qualities, flaws, fear, talents, strengths, desires, etc. will my character need to have? Of course, that’s probably not how it always happens, but I think I do that with a lot of my characters, especially protagonists.

    1. That’s really interesting! I don’t know many people who do story first. Thanks for sharing and happy writing! 🙂

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