To me, the best part of stories is the characters who bring them to life. Without our characters, what’s left? Sometimes a character may even be the wind, or a spirit, or animals, but something always acts in a story. If not, where’s the story?
How do I write characters? First, I imagine who I want to go on an adventure with. Who will I encounter? Who are my allies and who am I unsure about? Who or what am I fighting against? Sure, there’s no secret that my protagonists are based at least loosely on me, either as I am or was. If I write a story I want to read, I’ll get an adventure from it. But...what about everyone else?
Inspiration for characters comes from all over. Who do we know that we admire? What traits do we wish they had? What makes them human, I mean what are their hopes, dreams, fears, and flaws? Without all these, they’re not really real, are they?
Okay, so we’ll take a concrete example right from my first novel. The character of Leya, Aili’s pony. Where did she come from?
For starters, I love ponies. I ride them every chance I get over horses, as they’re quirky and full of personality. I love my horses, too, but there’s something about the ponies that I just do well with. They have enough attitude for a massive horse, all stuffed in those little hairy bodies. I know ponies.
Alright, I know how ponies think and behave, what their likes and dislikes typically are. What now? Well, Leya can’t just be any pony, she needs to be her own pony. What does she specifically like? What does she hate, and who doesn’t she tolerate? In her case I based her off a couple of ponies I actually have in my paddocks here at home. I chose some traits from each that I thought would blend well into one personality...horsinality? I worked out what she fears, what her favourite treats were, where she likes to be scratched. Everything I know about my own ponies, I worked out for her.
This works for human characters as well. While I may not know all my character’s backstory, I learned more about one just this sequel in fact, I know what they like and don’t, what they want, and how they react to things. Readers can discover more as future books progress. Even if much of this information never makes it into a book, it gives me a consistent person to work with. I have a notebook with information on each character, where this gets written down.
So, who are they? Who’re their friends? What are their hobbies? Do they have a favourite food? How well do they read, and what language(s)? Bring them to life and let them play. How do they dress? Are they tidy or messy, clean or dirty? Write a dating profile for them if that helps, or think of a facebook profile to organize what you know. Or do like I do and keep a record in a paper book, leaving room to add more information as they adventure in more stories.
Make a character...Go write!
I’ve been writing stories for myself for years. Now, I’m a published author. No genre is off limits, though I have some favorites.