Thursday, October 18, 2012

How Do You Create Your Characters?

by JccKeith

Creating is Hard Work

Writing a book is complicated enough with just having a plot to follow.  It becomes more problematic and time consuming when you start creating your characters.  More than just acting along with the plot line, they have to be filled out as people.  

  • A great character is multi-dimensional.  Readers have to feel they know the character and have strong opinions about him/her.

Creating a person from nothing requires a lot of time, effort and personal investment.  I like to start out by picking a name and a general body type, hair color, eye color, etc.  Once I have their physical appearance matched up with a name, I start on personality.  It may sound silly to say but I use stereotypes, to a certain extent in my characters.  I don't use standard stereotypes like good guy, bad guy, pretty girl, smart girl or those types of people.  I draw inspiration from the horoscope stereotypes. 

  • That's right, I said I look up different signs and their personality descriptions to give me a rounded out person with a variety of traits.  Personally I'm not a believer in horoscopes but they serve their purpose for my writing.  We all know the descriptions and we're all familiar with the traits each sign is supposed to have.  I have to say, you can't beat the zodiac signs for providing well rounded characters.  You can even match your characters up, chemistry wise, using the same zodiac information. 

These personality traits are wonderful for helping me fill in details surrounding the plot.  I know how each character will react to events because I know, for example, that the Leo of the group will want to take center stage and the Sagittarius of the group will be adventurous and outgoing.  I also know that the Leo and the Sagittarius will get along very well.  This allows for greater character interaction a reader can really feel; can understand on a personal level.  As a reader I like to feel a bond with my favorite characters, feel like I know them as people.  I don't feel that way about typical stereotypes because I only see one part of their personality.

  • The usual stereotypes like captain of the team, nerd, cheerleader, or slutty girl/guy tend to be one dimensional.  They have one trait that guides their entire character, one focus which determines all their decisions and actions.  To adhere to the stereotype they have to always follow certain actions.  In my opinion, adhering to the stereotype takes away from the character's possibilities.  No one follows stereotypical actions all of the time, as people we are affected by passions, angers, jealousies, hopes, hurts, loves, losses and these affect our judgment. 

The zodiac signs, while presenting somewhat of a stereotype by saying all people born within a certain time frame exhibit a certain range of behaviors and traits, provide a wide assortment of possibilities.  A zodiac description gives not only character traits but also how those traits play into one another.  A Leo for example, loves to be the center of attention but is hyper sensitive to the opinions of others.  Leos are born leaders, exhibit pride and like to be in control, but they are generous and kind to those less fortunate.  Capricorns have a strong work ethic and seem very serious but also have a dry, witty sense of humor.  The possibilities of character interaction and reaction are endless when you have so much personality information to use.

  • There are of course those who can create characters in their head without any reference at all.  Cheers to those creative people!  
  • There are also some stories which require the use of a few stereotypical characters, like Scooby Doo.  The show wouldn't be what it is if it used more multi-dimensional characters.  For Scooby-Doo stories to work Fred has to always be the leader, Velma has to be the nerd and Shaggy and Scooby the goofy sidekicks that screw it all up.
  • For others, they draw character inspiration from previously established characters in older writing.  Following is a great article about how the character of House was created:

How House was Created
As for me and my writing, I have to use characters closer to real live people than a standard stereotype.  My stories require characters to have depth and varying emotions.  I become personally invested in each character I create and I find myself either loving or hating them.  Regardless of whether they are good or bad, I want to know what happens to them, how it happens and why it happened in exactly that way.  I want to feel like their ending was justified, that they deserved the either happy or terrible end. 

What about the rest of you?  Do you like to personally identify with characters in a book or a show?  Do you feel some enjoyment when the bad guy gets what he deserves or the lovers live happily ever after?  For writers, how do you create characters people can truly love or hate?

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