Where do characters come from?


How often do you get these questions: What is it like for you when a new character pops into existence in your head? How does it work? Where do they come from?

Explaining to someone who doesn’t write fiction just exactly what this experience is like is tough. And, I expect it works differently for every writer. But, here’s what it’s like for me.

That moment when a new character enters my head is strange and profound. I’m not sure there’s anything like it. One moment, it’s just my own thoughts swirling. In the next, a new face appears and with that face comes thoughts, emotions, feelings, and eventually, an entire life history. Those pieces come slowly, though, as different people and things I interact with in my everyday life spark a connection.

In the past, I’ve been able to ease into a character’s perspective and voice simply because they felt so familiar. I used to describe it like downshifting in a car (hah as if I have ever actually driven a stick shift! Ok…well there was that one time). But, I used to feel as if I could downshift out of myself and into this new person. Now, though, things are a little different. I used to write to escape, so I’d leave myself behind. That’s back when I wrote out of sadness. Today, I write out of joy and my characters feel more like a part of me than separate from me.

I haven’t had a new main character manifest him/herself in my head for quite a while. But, while my fiance and I were enjoying a fabulous June evening at an outdoor amphitheater taking in the bands I fell in love with in my teens—Goo Goo Dolls and Train—the unexpected happened.

I don’t know what it is about music or other art forms. But, they randomly throw me into a space where my thoughts begins to spin and a beautiful line of text appears in my mind or a character shows up and demands to be brought to life.

It happened in the middle of the Goo Goo Dolls (featured image is a photo I snapped of the band during the show – though not during the song in question) playing their new song, Miracle Pill. Have you heard it yet? Right there, beneath the flashing lights, I saw her – a sort of 90’s inspired rocker chick with dark hair and fuchsia highlights, an undercut, the top layer a bun on her head. She sports dark leather or denim pants and a leather jacket and has a bad ass tattoo of some sort on her thigh or maybe her torso. She stayed with me, too, through the old song Broadway (something about her really began to glow in my mind during that song. But, I’m not sure why yet) and my other teenage favorites, just sitting there, gleaming in the flashing lights.

She lives in an urban fantasy story that takes place in my hometown of Kansas City. But, she’s not from here. She was sent here on assignment and she was none to happy about being sent to “flyover country.” At this point, I’m not sure what that assignment is or was. But, the process begins again.

I would love to hear how characters come to you and make themselves known. Please feel free to share your own experiences in the comments!

Where to go from here
So where do I go from here? I have a story that I’d planned on writing, but nothing really has manifested for it yet in spite of the historical research I’ve been working through. Do I head to Pinterest and start scouring the internet for images that remind me of the character in my mind? Or, should I push forward with trying to tease out my Sappho story. I’m not exactly sure…but I will keep you posted as things develop!

 

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