Creating characters usually works differently for different writers, and as far as I can tell, there’s no one right way to go about this – but there are plenty of wrong!
Sometimes, a character will just spring up, fully formed, without the writer ever having any say in the matter. One day, that writer will be doing something normal, and the next thing they know, they have someone in their head demanding to be written about. How this occurs, no one has any clear evidence, though there are many theories. Mine is that a writer’s subconscious is a scary place, and sometimes it breeds monsters.
Now, if only all characters saved a writer the trouble of having to make them.
Most of the time, a writer has to do it the hard way – by going out and figuring out everything about the protagonist they can. This is literally creating a person. It’s a great responsibility. Some people start with the story – what kind of protagonist do they need to move the story forward? That can be tricky, because you need to be able to predict human behaviour based on their character traits.
Other times, they start with the character, and then drop them in the middle of whatever conflict is going on in the book. I usually do my characters this way, although that often means that my novel will randomly change direction based on a decision my character made because that’s how I made them. It’s something a writer has to deal with.
(Note: for any RPG players that have GM experience – you know exactly what I mean. The other players never do what you want them to. Treat characters the same way – characters are people, with their own thoughts, feelings, and motivations separate from your own)
I like to start off with that character’s name, because names are fun. I used to make names up a lot, but lately I’ve discovered that the real world has some pretty interesting names as well. My real problem is that because I keep looking up baby names, Google thinks I’m pregnant. Get with the program Google!
Then I come up with character traits – some good, some bad, some neutral. Often lots of traits will overlap or complement each other, so that makes it easier. Let’s go back to impulsiveness, because it’s fun – a character might get into a lot of trouble because of their impulsiveness, but it also might make them friends and allies.
I think physical character traits are the easiest thing, and the thing you can change the most. Honestly, their appearance is just a flesh suit to put all the hard work I’ve already done inside. Mostly, I use physical character traits as a tool, to put more into my work. We’ll have the Diversity in Writing talk later, because while it’s important for the overall character of your writing, for your character, it’s slightly less important – it doesn’t make them who they are. I’ll explain more about that later, because that’s a whole different ocean of thought.
I could write a book on character creation, so we’ll leave it here. 500 words is not enough for this topic!