Thursday, 22 May 2014

10 Things about Creating Characters

Hello and welcome (back) to my blog, my dearies!!

Today I want to share with you 10 things about creating characters... what I do, how I come up with them, what helps me and when they give me hell (I'm still not sure I can be helped in that sort of situation, but I do try...). 

Fact #1: For Shakespeare, it's a rose by any other name... for me, rose is rose is rose...unless it's a thorn, of course.

For me, most characters start to come together when I name them. Names are important - I'm kind of obsessive compulsive about them. I look up meanings and everything. Some of my characters change names as their character develops, as if they're changing their skin when the old one gets too tight (ok so sometimes this only happens in my head and not in the actual story but still). I going out on a limb here and assuming I'm not the only one who's obsessive about that kind of thing? 

Fact #2: A little sass never hurt anybody. 

My characters start out very, very cheeky. They're sarcy bastards/bitches, snarking their way through what I'd like the plot to be. They come out with the most outrageous things, just to get my attention, until I throw my hands up in despair and let them mess with my plot, after all. They usually settle down a bit after that. 

Fact #3: Visual aids can be (very) helpful. 

When I've got the bare bones of my character down - hair and eye colour, body type and the likes - I prefer having a photo to inspire Mr Muse. Usually this is some actor or another - not necessarily the one I'd want for a film version of my character, though I've been told some writers like to think of it that way. Just someone who fits the physical characteristics at least marginally, or fits the type of person I'd like my character to be. I know some authors use Pinterest to sort out their visual inspiration. I haven't quite gotten a hang of that, yet, but I think it could have its uses...

Fact #4: Talkshows are popular for a reason.

One of my favourite characterisation exercises is interviewing my characters. Just a chat between the two of us, with both parties asking questions. I guess it's almost a split personality exercise, but isn't all writing like that? We take bits and pieces of our minds and give them a life of their own. Mine like to talk. Lots. In fact, they just LOVE to interrupt me when I'm doing something other than paying attention to them. 

Fact #5: Plot and Character need to mesh. 

I find it really hard to finish my stories. One of the reasons for this is that my characters like to change the game partway through. They no longer fit into the plot I had all set out for them. And no, I don't always figure out where they took the first step down the wrong path. Almost invariably this leads to me redoing the whole shebang. Lately, I've put more effort into making sure my characters actually mesh with the plot I have in mind. I'm hoping things will go more smoothly now, but I'm not holding my breath...

Fact #6: All people have secrets.

Sometimes, the characters keep secrets even from me. I'll get to a certain plot point and BAM! The character I'm working with right then comes up with this little tidbit of backstory I had no clue about. This leads to frantic rethinking plot lines and character motivation on my part. I think it's important that characters retain some sense of mystery for the reader, unless you want said reader outthinking your character every step of the way (that sort of thing probably has its place, but it isn't the way I want to work). I just wish my characters wouldn't keep secrets from ME! Sometimes it makes me feel like my children have suddenly moved out of the house and developed lives of their own (what makes that really weird is that I have no children).

Fact #7: Sometimes, it's love at first sight.

Some characters just sort of click in my head, all charm and picture perfect profile. There he is, Prince Charming himself, perfect for your plot and never possibly discarded. I love these kind of characters, really I do, but they can also be annoying like that too-beautiful cousin or neighbour who just makes everyone else look bad by default. I'm not usually a fan of that kind of person in real life (even more so if they're not only PICTURE perfect, but also very sweet and loving and charming and eugh it's just too much to cope with...)(some of us are ordinary human beings and ordinary human beings don't like to be outperformed on all fronts, now do we?). So what these sort of characters need is a serious flaw or two. Because, let's face it, it might be love at first sight but we don't WANT people to be perfect. 

Fact #8: Sometimes, they grow on you like mould. 

In some stories, I start out really disliking this one character, I designate him as the bad guy, plot him in the darkest of plot lines, let the whole danged thing hinge on his evil deeds. Then he goes and gets this dark sense of humour, and this heart-breaking back story that explains so very much (yes I KNOW that I'm really the one who comes up with the backstory, but hey, that's just not the way it works, is it?). The big bad is suddenly the charming bad guy who has dimples when he smiles his roguish smile. 


Fact #9:  And sometimes, you need to kill your darlings.

No matter how much you like a character, or how perfect you think he is for the bad-guy-role, he may not be the perfect boy for your plot. Or girl, or alien, or abstract being, or whatever. Maybe the problem is not the plot but the character. I have a couple of these. I love them to pieces, but somehow, any plot I try to write around them falls apart. They will find their place eventually, but for now, they're on ice. 

Fact #10: And really, you don't have to like them. 

All said and done, there really isn't any need for you to like your characters. There needs to be an attachment, sure, but like? We can't like everybody (unless you're the Pope or Jesus or Buddah or Mother Theresa or The Dalai Lama some such)(wait that's quite a lot of people, isn't it?), so by extension, we should not like all our characters, either. They need to have their flaws, they need to be fallible, and some of them should probably be almost unlikable. The important thing is not that we like them, it's that they evoke emotions in the reader, that they ring true as human (or elvish or alien) beings. They need to be believable, that's the ticket. 

What about you? Any important fact you'd like to add to my list? 

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