Make ‘em Breathe
Creating the people to inhabit fictional worlds is, in some ways, the most creative part of creating a story. Characters, like real people, are infinite in their possibilities. They experience, they react, they emote, they inspire, they irritate, they dream; the list goes on.
Because characters are so open, they can be a headache. Too many possibilities make it difficult to choose. For a writer, they are the equivalent of a sweet shop full of tooth-rotting goodness. The temptations are endless. ‘Pick and Mix’ is usually the best way to satisfy all the competing urges – Sporty? Sneaky? Saucy? Smart Alec? Sarcastic? I know, let’s have a bit of each. The danger, of course, is that a character becomes a list of traits rather than someone recognisable or relatable or likeable. That would be a baaaad thing.
Ernest Hemingway knew a thing or two about this. He said, “When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters.” Yes – that is what I want. People, not cardboard cut outs, not stereotypes, not hypothetical trait exhibitors. How is this achieved? Hmm. Trickier.
An editor once told me something I have found useful. Instead of painting a character like a personality checklist, think about what drives them. Why are they the person that will perform a particular role in your story? What is there in their background that haunts them? Why do they care/not care? Motivation is key to creating character. Once you have ironed that one out, the personality traits kind of take care of themselves…
How do you create characters? What kind of characters do you enjoy the most? Are there any character ‘types’ that you return to in your writing? I seem to have a penchant for damaged people, people who have been wounded so badly that trust becomes an issue for them. The confident exterior that hides a multitude of fears is also a favourite. Care to share yours?
- Highjacked (blackinkwhitepaper.wordpress.com)
- On Writing – Character Description (swampofboredom.com)
- Sanderson – Lecture 4 (6/6): Character Creation Example Part II (lpstribling.wordpress.com)
- Mental and Emotional Byways, Complexes and Hang-Ups in Fictional Characters (scskillman.com)