Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Create a Character

One of the questions I hear frequently is how do I create my characters? Where do they come from? What inspired me? This is also the hardest question to answer because characters can come from anywhere. They can spring fully formed from my forehead like Athena did from Zeus or percolate in the foamy waves generated by my sea of imagination like Aphrodite or they can simply take shape over time, like a carefully worn path through the mountains that the river cuts relentlessly.

Where Do Characters Come From?

Ask any author where his or her characters come from and you will likely receive a different answer. One author I met last summer described her character creation process as an introduction. Some of her characters arrive, fully formed with names and introduce themselves. Still others describe the process as getting to know their characters as they write.

One author I know begins with the germ of an idea, a word, a catch phrase or even just a hint of personality and then she writes until that character takes shape on the page. She described her process of getting to know the character like picking out all the right traits on a singles-dating site, but until she took the character out for a spin, she didn't really know them.

Growing Characters

Still other characters are grown, birthed from an idea and nurtured in an author's imagination until they grow up. Some characters grow faster than others, some run before they can even walk. These are most of often the characters that leap off the page whether they are a supporting character, a main character or a villain.

What it boils down to, is that there is no one true absolute method to character creation. One need only turn on the television to look at the wide range of characters. Some characters are very similar, on the surface, but as you get to know them, you find their quirks.


  • Castle – On the surface, Rick Castle is an author, playboy and devilishly charming guy. If you go deeper, you learn he is a wildly curious man who loves to explore the world around him. He's about the fun and the dark. He's a good dad and he's shy about commitment, but only after two marriages. His fascination with the macabre is not because of a childhood tragedy, but more due to his need to understand why it happens in the first place.

  • Chuck – On the surface, Chuck is the kid who had a lot of potential, but he just can't seem to live up to it. If you go deeper, you learn that Chuck is a brilliant guy who had a brilliant future, all of which was robbed from him by his best friend in order to "protect" him. The accusation that he was cheating and his subsequent booting from Stanford University kicked his self-confidence and desire for greater things right in the teeth. It's taken him a long time to build up that confidence again and even now, he struggles with it, no matter how well intentioned.

  • House – On the surface, Gregory House is a miserable SOB who uses his brilliance as a pass for some of the most reprehensible behavior. This season, we've really dug down into the character of House, we know he had a troubled childhood with an emotionally distant and abusive father. We know he was an extremely physical guy who became crippled and lived with chronic pain. He lost the love of his life after she made a decision he could barely forgive her for. The deeper you go, the more you learn.



What sets these characters apart from an author is they are all characters on television that were written and created by writers, but interpreted by the actors who play them. The nuances these actors bring to the roles help you connect to the characters, get to know them and invest in them emotionally.

Where Do Characters Come From?

So where do these characters come from? They come from everywhere. They are the kid in first grade who used to pull your hair, they are the bullies in sixth grade who gave you your first black eye, they are the girl in the front row who knew all the answers, but always seemed sad and the boys on the sports teams that always seemed to live in their own world.

Characters come from the mother who walks her dogs with her babies every morning regardless of the weather. Characters are the people in the sports car who have to zip around you even though traffic is flowing at 20 miles an hour. Characters are the men and women on the news who dish out their reports of what is happening and where.

Characters come from all occupations and all aspects of our own lives. Every author infuses a small piece of him or herself into the characters they create when they breathe life into them. The question to ask though is not where do characters come from – but where don't they?


2 comments:

  1. Hi Heather :)
    What an excellent post on characterization.
    Thank you for sharing!
    Rob
    xoxo

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  2. Great post!

    Characters are so important to me. I'll overlook a silly plot, so-so facts, and even not the greatest writing, if the characters pop off the page. A good character is worth a million "well-written" books to me.

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