Creating Characters

Posted on Posted in Writing&Publishing

“Every character should want something, even if it’s just a glass of water.”
–Kurt Vonnegut

How do you create characters? What is the process?

Well, first, I want to just say how grateful I am to my near mentors (the people I can call on the phone, meet with, or email) and my far mentors (the people who have written books, been interviewed, or provide podcasts). From them, I am learning to create characters that are deeper and more differentiated.

Now onto what some famous writers have to say about creating characters:

“When I’m designing a character, I begin with a name. To my way of thinking, it’s impossible to create a character without one. The name I choose cannot be arbitrary, either.”
–Elizabeth George

Each character’s name fits some part of their personality. This is where the character sketch begins. How do you interview a character to find out if they should be in your book if you don’t even have a name? Not everybody’s name fits them. Sometimes, the name might be the exact opposite.

I was reading a book on how to write a certain genre, and the author suggested making sure the name fits. She used a name with all soft sounds, but didn’t think it would work for someone with an edge. Josh, to her, just doesn’t have the same “oomph” as a Rick.

Adya was my antagonist. My bad guy. The leader of an ancient cult/religion pretending to be part of mainstream religion. The meaning of her name is “the first, The Earth. Perfect. Unequaled.” It’s also a form of a goddess’s name. Considering who she serves, that made sense to me.

“I try to create character that I am fascinated by on some level or intrigued by or can’t stand.”
–Terry McMillan

Somebody read my book and said how much they hated Adya, how she was two-dimensional. This reader didn’t believe that anybody could actually be like her. Another reader told me she was their favorite bad guy to hate. The outline for her was an actual person I knew and was privy to some of her personal beliefs about herself. And, secret shared, her parts were written out by the dates on the calendar…

“When writing a novel, a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.”
–Ernest Hemingway

Adya isn’t the worst of people. She’s not intentionally, over-the-top evil. She’s the hero of her own story, trying to make things happen to fulfill her religion’s constructs. She sees people as a means to an end and she doesn’t care what has to happen to get it. She’s very macchiavellian in that way.

“You cannot bring a character to life in a book unless he or she is alive before the book begins.”
–Elizabeth George

Some people recommend creating character based on a template. Others will suggest your character go through a job interview to find out if that character should be in the book and if they really want to be there. Others will suggest creating backstories (this is my personal favorite). Still, others will tell you just to create a name then throw stuff at them during the course of the story to figure out how they respond.

FYI, my characters always live in my head before I even begin to write them. They are alive and intermingling together. They make appearances in my dreams-both at night and during daydreams.

But above all:

Character has been the subject of more confusing, mystifying double talk than any other aspect of writing.”
–Larry Beinhart

I guess the best advise there is, is to try out all the different ways to create a character and figure out what works best for you. What you do today might not be what you do tomorrow and you just might surprise yourself!

Until next time…
God’s grace and peace to you!

P.S. If you want some more hints at how to create character, someone I highly recommend is Joanna Penn.

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