I’m afraid it varies! It really depends on the
situation. It feels too pragmatic to sound creative but too creative to sound
creative end, sometimes the characters do come to me. But they usually
aren’t presenting their stories outright.
In a literal sense, a character idea will pop in my head, so
I’ll write up a little about them—the things I feel to be true—and sometimes
give them a piece of flash fiction (or something else short) so I can get a
feeling for how they are and if they fit my initial assessment.
I prefer character-driven media, so I focus on what the
character is like and figure out what they want. For example, my second
NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) was a story about a writer. (Wow, yes,
I know. So original. Writing about a writer. Yeah.) I didn’t know what the
writer wanted, but I knew what she was like. I knew her base situation as well.
If you know their base situation (where they are at the beginning of the story
or slightly prior to it), you can figure out what makes them unhappy about it.
After all, stories are about journeys, whether they are emotional or physically
moving to a different place or whatever.
My writer character felt like she didn’t have the life
experience to be a good writer. Summer comes, and she chooses to take that time
to travel to different places and meet new people. One conflict is that her
parents don’t really want her to go, especially by herself, because she was
only 17 or so.
I evaluated the character (she was an ambitious writer) and
calculated in what she didn’t like about where she was (she was an
inexperienced writer). So the plot/story came to me from there: she decides to
leave so she can travel and get life experience.
In that sense, they don’t always exactly tell me their
stories. I focused on what made the writer who she was and what kind of growth
she needed to take, not necessarily the growth she wanted.
The idea was that, by the end, she had gained experience but
that she didn’t feel richer for it, so she was going to struggle with trying to
realize what she had actually learned by leaving. I never really got there, but
that was the idea.
So I didn’t say to myself, “I have a writer character, and I
want her to travel.” I said to myself, “I have a concept of a writer who is
inexperienced. She wants to travel to get that valuable experience. I guess the
story should be about her travels.”
The story fell flat and unfinished, of course, by virtue of
how I intended for her to go cross-country when I had not done the same. It
felt inauthentic, and I bailed. I jammed out some nonsense so I could say I had
“won” NaNoWriMo that year.
more pragmatic view on characters is that I have a basic concept
(like, very basic, as in “I want to write about a character that worships
unicorns”) and then go through my personal questionnaires to determine the rest
of their traits and what they’re like.
- Where does this character live (mountains, valley,
riverbed, beach, etc.)?
- What surrounds their home (what kind of buildings,
what landmarks, what roads)?
- What is the climate like?
- How many moons and suns does that world have?
- What is the time period?
- What kind of city/town do they live in?
- How many people live there? What kinds of people?
- What plants (fruit, trees, spices, vegetables,
etc.) do they produce?
- What animals/wildlife do they have?
- What is the character’s role in that place?
- Why do they have that role?
- What are their goals? Are they happy with their
- What is the one thing they most want to change?
- What are their hobbies? What interests them?
- What is their family like? Any siblings? Parents
alive? What relationships do they have with their family members (MC to father,
MC to sister, etc.)? What relationships do the family members have with each
other (mother to father, brother to sister, etc.)?
- Do they have any current love interests? What has
their love life been like?
- What are they good at?
- Do they have any religious beliefs? If so, what
are they? If not, why?
- Do they perform any rituals (religious or
- What body type do they have? How do other people
perceive their appearance?
- What is their view on gender roles?
I then check out what I said about their goals and
- What would they need to do in order to achieve
- Is it feasible?
- Would it be an interesting story? Why or why not?
- Who would try to stop them?
- What obstacles are in the way (giant wall,
overbearing parents, lack of money, education necessities, etc.)?
- Why are these goals and roles so important? Who
are they most important to?
After all that, it feels like a good time to start
plotting the story out. And it’s straight-forward from there! (Usually.) When I
start plotting, I generally go with a general idea of where things start and
where things end. Then, I can figure out what would happen in between.
Story-plotting is about way more than waiting for
the right inspiration. Being a writer is about dedication and writing, even
when inspiration is nonexistent. But you have to write to find inspiration. You
can inspire yourself simply by working. You can’t let a blank page let you
down. You have to create stories and not just wait for them to come to you.
Inspiration, though, is awesome. If you get
inspired, run with it—with all of your ability, run with it. But you won’t feel
inspiration every single day, so you have to learn how to create characters and
stories on your own.
I actually have some resources already on my blog. 🙂 For
reasons of convenience, I include them below.
First up: my personal character questionnaire.
- Age appears to be:
- Appearance (clothing, body type, tattoos,
- Back story:
- Where their story begins in this story:
- Theme song:
- Idea of a perfect day:
- Where they’re going:
- What would they change about theirself, and why?
- What would they change about the world, and why?
- Most valuable possession(s):
- Favorite food and drink:
- Nickname/pet name:
- What makes them happy/sad/angry:
- Deepest desires:
- Something that changed their life forever:
- Sleep schedule:
- Favorite animal(s):
- Special features (different forms, type of
immortality, magical abilities, etc.):
Here are tags you can look at for more stuff:
And here are some specific posts:
Creating a character and writing a bio:
Character checklist and questions:
Random orientation, culture, etc.:
Random character traits (includes fears and goals):
Character flaws and questions:
Master list of writing and character resources:
A different master list:
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