There’s no ‘one’ way…
When creating characters, we put a lot of effort into them. Their names, family, friends, appearance, occupation, where they live, what they like, dislike, how tall are they? There is a lot of planning and structure that goes into a character. Sometimes we have difficulty figuring out how we want to build these characters, or what’s the ‘best’ way to go about creating them.
Ben White – Unsplash.com
“What if I miss something?”
“What if they’re not relatable?”
“What if no one likes them?”
Creating characters should: A) Not be this hard… and B) Be fun and exciting!
When I create my characters, I have at least one specific idea in mind. Mostly I start with their gender (they don’t need one of course) and then go into appearance, personality and finally when all of that is said and done, I attempt to match them with an appropriate name. But where does this process start?
Their role in the story.
If I’m creating the main character, there’s a lot to consider:
- How do they talk/act/move?
- Is their personality strong or weak?
- Are they more likely to cry or scream?
- Dance or sing or neither?
Questions like these really get you interested in, not only your character’s back story, but who they are as a ‘person’. If you’re interested, there is a good chance your reader might be, too.
But, what if this method doesn’t work for me?
This post is derived from poewar.com, and their post on the 10 days of character building: http://www.poewar.com/10-days-of-character-building-wrap-up/
Together, we’ll go through one of their techniques and create a random character from scratch! As I go through this, hopefully I’ll be learning a new technique, and you’ll be getting a better idea on building your characters in the future!
In the future I’ll probably use a few more techniques, especially as my research continues in the book I’m reading, but for now, let’s just use one.
A Day in the Life:
Using poewar’s “A Day in the Life” article for character building, we’ll create a random, imperfect, interesting main character for any sort of book. While plots and stories might change, the character shouldn’t. For example, you wouldn’t just change your morals, values or language with a blink of an eye. You wouldn’t be walking down the street one day and just murder a man with your bare hands! (Or would you???)
Using this method, we’ll be able to create some concrete and consistent traits that should be followed throughout your story, until (one day) your story changes that character forever. Or, in more popular films, the character changes the world they’re living in.
The article’s suggestion is a normal drive to work, but for this blog’s purposes, I’ll choose a different scenario to get the same feeling. How about: a day at work.
Kevin Lee – Unsplash.com
Alright, first some quick decisions:
- Male – Alex
- 32 years old
- Black hair, blue eyes, 5ft 9in
- Wife, son, three German shepherds
- No remaining parents or siblings
- Occupation: Taxi Driver
Cool! Now that that’s out of the way, let’s dive in. (In retrospect, this is similar to a drive to work, but when your job is driving…well…)
Alex drives and works in New York City. His small home in the outer city of Secaucus, New Jersey is comfortable, quiet, and close by. He is by no means against working in the city, but could live without the traffic and angry pedestrians. A few gray hairs have already shown on the top of his head, and he regrets the microwave burrito that he had for breakfast.
His taxi is clean, suggesting he takes pride in his work. He likes the radio, usually talk shows, but sometimes old rock music from the 80’s. He doesn’t like to fiddle with the radio, it distracts from his driving, and when he chooses a station it usually stays that way until lunch, and then the new station lasts from lunch until his shift ends; provided that no customer asks for anything else. After ten years of driving for a living, he is a calm, relaxed driver. He’s used to the hustle and bustle, and drives smoothly through traffic, even during rush hour. Their’s is such a cool, familiar personality that most of his customers keep him as a regular, and in fact ask for him personally. One gentleman in particular, an ancient banking CEO with an affinity for taking a cab, always has something jovial to discuss with him during their early mornings. He’s even been to Alex’s house once or twice for dinner.
What does this paragraph tell you? What do you feel when you think of him? Is he anything like you pictured when you thought of an NYC taxi driver? And who is this mysterious man who requests his services and dines with his family? Is the CEO kind? Suspicious? There’s another character plot right there. While this is a quick look into the life of Alex the taxi driver, there’s no guarantee if he’s the main character, a side character or someone we only see once.
Maybe he’s murdered. Maybe he’s abducted by aliens to be an intergalactic taxi-man. Maybe he’s none of these things.
That’s the beauty of character building and story building. They could go literally anywhere! Sometimes your character creation builds the story, and sometimes the story builds the character. For example, just by going through this quick paragraph (which took me less than ten minutes) I imagine that the old CEO of the bank dies suddenly one day, and poor Alex winds up as the last man to ever see him. Now he’s on the run from people who want him dead, a corrupt police force and his family’s lives are on the line. How does it all end?
This exercise was SO FUN! The whole thing took me less than ten minutes and I have a vague outline of a story! Does the writing process take a lot more? Of course, but now I’m excited with a great place to start! While I may not pursue this story at this time, it will always be there for me to add onto, ten minutes here and there, every day/week/month.
Don’t let things like the name of a character or what color hair they have to get you down. Names can change, colors can be dyed, but personalities are concrete and influence a character’s decisions. The story might throw them curve balls, but the character knows what they’ll do when they come.