Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Spark of Life: Creating Characters

Recently someone asked me how I go about creating characters. As I considered my response, I realized that the most important factor is time. Like any relationship, you have to devote time to another person if you are going to discover their secrets. The same is true for your characters. The only way you are going to learn about them, to understand them intimately, is if you spend quality time with them. 

There are several way to do this. 

First, if you can, figure out what they look like. 

I like to make collages (more about that later), so magazines are the first place I turn to when I’m looking for a new character. Photo collages on Facebook can also be helpful. I saw a gorgeous picture just last night that I have to use. It was of a 13 year old eagle huntress. An eagle huntress! Can you believe it? Doesn’t that sound soo cool. I have to write a story about her.

Ok, back to creating characters. Here’s how I work. I flip through a magazine or two, ripping out pages with pictures that speak to me, no matter the reason. The person might have a weird/angry/serene/eye-popping expression on their face, if it’s a person at all, the background might catch my interest, or the context. The reason doesn’t matter. If the picture looks interesting, I tear it out.

Once I have a pile of pictures, I sort through them to find a picture I can work with. That, right there, is the start of a character. 

Second, ask your character questions. They can be silly or serious, frivolous or thought provoking. Hopefully they are a combination of all of the above. I have had success with character questionnaires. They are a good way to introduce yourself to your characters. It almost like a game. Think about your own answers to the questions, and then listen for your character to share their answers. The more questions you ask, the more interesting the answers become. Before you know it, a fleshed out character is starting you in the face

Third, spend more quality time getting to know your new “friend.” I do this with free writing. This is stream of conscious writing where you just keep going. You don’t let the pencil stop moving, even if you have to repeat yourself a few times. You just keep writing and pushing yourself until you learn something about your character. 

I’ve always been of the opinion the free writing exercises should take at least 10 minutes and no more than about 30. But that's my rule, not yours. My hand starts to cramp if I write for much longer than 20. (I prefer typing on a computer but freewritting just has to be done long hand.) If I can make it to 30 minutes a lightbulb has gone off. Yea!

Sometimes I write about the character in third person, almost as if I am asking them more questions, or for more informations about the questions they already answered. Other times I write in first person, trying to discover their voice. Either way, I am spending time with my character and learning more about them.

The cliche is true: knowledge is power. Knowledge about your character leads to powerful writing. 

Ok, now it’s your turn. Go get to know your characters.

1 comment:

  1. I love your process. That eagle huntress intrigues me too! XD