Have you ever wondered how an author could contrive the colorful characters that draw you into a novel? How do these imaginary people, so full of life and personality, spring from nothing but an imagination? Sometimes characters aren’t even people, but beings from a realm you’d never imagined. How does one mind come up with such individuals? Although there are steps I take to create characters, the process can be both puzzling and surprising.
Some authors feel that their gift of creation is precarious, and if they rock the boat their ability to contrive characters will vanish. They think a jolt of any kind could shake loose their talent and leave them bereft. They carefully walk through life on eggshells, cautious not to alter their lifestyle for fear of losing their unique power. Other authors feel that their creativity springs from living a colorful and varied life; an existence filled with ever shifting perceptions and insights. I take a more middle of the road approach. My life of traveling in our RV is varied and colorful, yet each day I tend to have a similar routine. I certainly gear up to write in a comparable way each day. So what is the secret to unlocking the imagination doors of character development?
I’ve heard of authors who conceive a story in a flash, then closet themselves away for days or weeks, typing furiously until the whole thing is out. But I believe that far more of us agonize over our characters, some for months or years. We turn them this way and that in our mind, considering how they would respond to specific stimuli. What would they notice? How would they feel? Would they have a knee jerk reaction, then change their mind after a few moment of reflection, or hold stubbornly to their first impression? Would this character be a compilation of their experiences, always looking back for answers on how to move forward. Or is the character motivated by the need to feel free, resolute to never alter their course, because everything happens for a reason. Is my character motivated by guilt, or pleasure, or the need to please others? Is she closed off due to a past trauma, or motivated by a single goal. All these questions sound like a phycology class more so than a novel, but motivation is the driving force behind a character’s actions. Once you know the motivation behind a character you can begin to conceive how they respond.
Now you have a few character’s motivations established in your mind you can place them in a setting, confident that they won’t run-a-muck. Or better yet, maybe they will, to the delight and shock of the author. If you are lucky enough to contrive two characters with personalities that play off one another, you are in for a treat. With conflicting motivation running wild, anything can happen. These are the moments I love as an author. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been surprised and delighted by things my characters do or say.
Of course there are other things to consider when creating a character. What do they look like? Where do they live? How old are they? What language do they speak? And again, do these things effect their motivation?
I always ask myself “How can I create a three dimensional character that takes multiple factors into account for their day to day motivation.” I believe the fuller a character has been developed; the more readers will empathize and be drawn into the story. After all, humans are quite complicated creatures. Next I think “What would happen if this character is confront with their worst fear, or situations completely out of their control and comfort zone?” That’s right, what if I contrived scenarios to throw at the character knowing they will struggle to figure it out? Therein lies the best idea for a story.
Next time you pick up a novel, watch as the author develops the character. How do you learn what their motivation may be? Does it become clear through memories or conversation? Are you dropped into a scene where the character is thinking or acting a specific way? Are you clued in by their mannerisms or speech patterns? Sometimes you find out about a character by the way other characters respond to them. The best thing about writing and reading is that the possibilities for character development are pretty much endless…