Monday, February 2, 2015

Creating Characters Using Pieces of You

(Real fast, let's just revel in the excitement that today is post number 200 on the blog! *throws confetti*)

When it comes to crafting characters, making them feel real is the goal. Giving them real dreams, motivations, ambitions, and relationships is what's going make the reader not only believe in them, but to care for them.

The way to do this is to consider one of the most basic pieces of writing advice: write what you know.

So how's this work? Look at the characters you already have, in whatever project you're working on. Break them down until you can identify their most basic personality traits. While it's true that you should have a diverse range (to make them unique from one another), you'll more than likely also find yourself in there, one piece per character. If you put each character into one, giant person: you'll have yourself.

The trouble is, this happens subconsciously. You can try, upon planning out an idea, to purposely plan each character to a certain trait of yours, but in that case you might find them forced. The trick is to let them evolve naturally, and then pick them apart once you've got them settled into their skins. This is going to really help you when it comes to figuring out their motivation.

Let me use an example:

In my current WIP, I have a lovely, purple-haired character named Wren. To put it simply, she's a bit of a bitch: she's obsessed with her work (hacking); she distrusts everybody she meets; and she's perfectly blunt in everything she says, often putting her own work above that of others and only telling them what she feels they need to know (or answering their questions in the most simplest of ways; one-word answers are kind of her favorite things). Now, let's compare this to me (and, hey, you're going to learn something about me):

Obsessed with my work? Yep. When I'm not doing homework, I'm doing writing or working on this blog. I don't have a social life. Or many friends.

Distrusts everybody I meet? Haha, yeah...there's a reason I don't have many friends, and that's because of past encounters and the fact that it takes a lot of time for me to really trust anyone with anything beyond normal, day-to-day, superficial interactions.

Blunt? Okay, this is only occasionally. What I say and what I think are two wildly different things (I'm a notorious people-pleaser); however, Wren says exactly what she thinks, whereas I keep my thoughts to myself. So here's a halfway point.

How does this help me figure out her motivation? Well, as it so happens, I know myself very well. I know that I work so hard because there's a part of me that's afraid of failing myself and failing my family; I know that I distrust everybody on first meeting because some of my closest friends have let me down (ex-close friends, I should mention; I've become much pickier in who I actually let in); lastly, I suppose I'm so blunt (in my thoughts) because I've always felt judged on some level, which means that when my verbal shortness does come out, it means I'm so stressed that I can't keep it in.

This is all extremely helpful when it comes to Wren: she's terrified of letting down her family (father dead, brother almost died, mother always worried out of her mind); her father's closest friends were the very people who killed him, and there's also the fact that everyone she works with keeps secrets, so she feels she has the right to keep secrets of her own; she's so rude to people because she feels as if she's on a deadline, which means she's given herself a mental ticking clock so she doesn't have time to waste if she wants to bring her father's killers to justice before they win everything.


I could do this with all of my characters; if you like, leave me a comment and I'll do another. Just notice how I go from one step to the next: identify the character's natural traits (after a bit of first-drafting and planning; make sure to pay attention with the pieces of them that are natural); then, I figure out where those traits are inside of me. Then, I examine myself and figure out why I sometimes act the same way, which naturally leads to the reasons why Wren is the way she is.

Build your characters like this, and I guarantee that you'll be able to write them a lot easier, and that they'll come across more naturally in the long run: remember, write what you know, and if you look closely you'll realize that you can identify with everything your characters are going through, which means it might be easier than you think to figure out what they're fighting for.

Well, what are your thoughts? What's your best way of developing your characters?

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Trying to craft realistic characters? Blogger @Rae_Slater recommends looking no further than your own personality (Click to Tweet)

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  1. When you create your characters, do you consciously infuse aspects of your personality, or does it happen organically?

    1. That is an excellent question, actually. Strangely enough, I've thought about it a lot, too. I want to say that it happens organically. Like, I just write the characters as they come, and it's only later I realize that I can see myself in all of them. If that makes sense?

  2. My characters. Let's see.

    Former cop, in Terminal. Shoots bad people. Queen of Sheeba, African woman. (very dark, very beautiful)

    Jennifer, in Breaking all the rules. Insecure and likes to have sex, doesn't like the feeling afterwards.

    James, in Jungle. Soldier. Kills kids. Regrets it.

    Valerie, French woman. In Valerie, In french, sorry. Peripheral character. Main character is unnamed, but moves from France to Los Angeles. Kills people. Is obsessed with Valerie.

    Unnamed narrator, first person, in Shadows. English Shepherd, Vikings. Sailor.

    Me, in There. Later wrote what I really sensed.

    Unnamed first-person narrator in Swordman. Kills people, saves people.

    Unnamed first-person narrator in Tehran. Hired killer.

    Jack, first-person narrator in mu62190 (sci fi) - advanced maintenance personnel. Also, Melisse and Artemis. Crazy human-to-robot interface, way before Avatar.

    Unnamed first-person narrator, in Federal Trooper. Soldier. Also, Megana. Sci-fi. Interesting angle at AI.

    Maegan and Markus, in Maegan. (very short, morning after) Young people waking up after crazy night. I associate with Markus' character more, but not entirely.

    In Amelie, I create the two characters, Amelie and the unnamed male, before your very eyes. She is a projection of personal desire. He is me as I see myself when older?

    Lots of characters in The Princess. There's me, my son, my wife, my sister in law. My muse, ever so demanding and sultry, and the other characters.
    The Princess herself, I suppose I share nightmares with her, or used to. (I found a really amazing trick and they went away--it's been many years).
    Magnus, the King. I don't know. They came to the party all dressed up. I discovered Magnus as the same time Mathilde did, in his room at night.

    Yekaterina Timofeyeva, in Miss Timofeyeva. I have no idea where she came from. A young Russian woman of noble birth in 19th century Russia. (Trust me that's not me) And she's very unkind, selfish.

    Maega, in The House of Dreams. I note there's a strong variation on the name throughout my stories. Maega, Megana, Maegan. There's something later, I haven't posted yet, about the name. I'll just leave you with this: A woman from a long-dead past who haunts my quiet thoughts: Magebah. Perhaps the other characters were veiled incarnations. (Have I creeped you out yet?)

    Maega is a dream catcher. A woman who uses sexuality as a means to bond to another human. Shame and redemption, and she's an object of desire. Mmmm. Gonna have to think about that.

    Jasan, in that same story: strong, hard-working, well-balanced, straightforward. The me I want to be? Perhaps.

    Mrs Muller, officers Fern and Woodhall. (note the plant-ish names of the officers.) Mrs Muller: old, cracked, yet magical, able to summon powers and be in different places. Very much like Japanese ghost. The Officers, LAPD, certain at first, then less so.

    Jillian and Warren, in Jillian. Both having selfish youths, then, later changing, and having changed, able to be with each other. Also, I have no idea where she came from. I see myself in him, how I would act. I also see my step-dad.

    There are others, from unfinished tales, from tales on paper notebooks. There are many others, kids, pirates, soldiers, explorers, homeless men...

    I've never written an Asian character, I don't think.

    And to your point in your comment, yes, I don't plan them that way, I see myself somewhat in some of them, looking back. At the time, though, I try to distance the me that write from the them the protagonist. If that makes any sense :)

    I've never killed anyone, by the way, nor do I have the desire to. I don't know where that comes from. It's a recurring theme, though. More to think about.

    1. You are a lovely human, Chris. Awesome comment, and thanks for writing all of that out :D