The Tricky Art of Character Creation

Before I get started, Squiders, let me note that both KitCampbellBooks.com and KitTheEditor.com are currently down. Apparently some sort of malicious source code snuck in through one of my WordPress plugins and tried to send people to other websites, so my host is currently going through all the code for both sites to find the culprit. Unfortunately, this will be a lengthy process, and the sites will then need to be rebuilt from back-ups.

So I apologize if you went to either site while they were infected (though my host assures me they caught it quickly) or if you need/want information that is normally hosted there. You can find both my personal and editorial email addresses above (under “contact me” and “hire me!” respectively), and please feel free to send me an email if you need anything.

Now, onto characters.

I’ve recently taken over the Storycraft meetings of my local speculative fiction writing group (and hooray for having a genre-specific writing group), which means I’m in charge of coming up with discussion topics. But I find that group discussion is excellent, because not only does it allow you to hear other people’s processes, but it forces you to look at your own in more detail.

Last time we talked about characters. And going into the meeting, I would have told you that my characters come to me fully formed, with names and characteristics attached, and that they were one of the easiest parts of my story creation.

But there are nuances. Yes, I can’t write a story before I have a character, but while some characters show up fully formed at the beginning, others just appear as needed. In some cases, the characters spring directly from the world, or from the plot, and without having those aspects first, I can’t have characters. In other cases, characters show up with nothing attached to them, leaving me to scramble to try and find someplace for them to fit.

And, for me, names are essential. Sometimes, when I’m still in the character forming stage, I’ll troll about name websites, looking at meaning, waiting to have that flash on insight, to have the character show up. Sometimes I have to make a list and the character meanders in a little later.

But it does make it really hard to change names. It always changes personality for me.

How other people get their characters has always fascinated me. Everybody’s processes work so differently. Some people need to do complicated character interviews or map out character arcs before their characters can take shape. Some people can change names with no issues. (How? Argh!)

What is your character creation process? Does it change based on the circumstances or the type of story?

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5 responses to this post.

  1. I get mine fully formed. I never have names and have to come up with those.

    Reply

  2. My characters come in bits and pieces. I can start with a vague idea for an interesting character (cool girl who is a space-explorer!) or it can or story-function (I need someone to be a minor antagonist, and it’d be nice if they were an old lady), or they can begin as a set of personality traits (grumpy, bitter person with crippling injury, has no time for silly people) and then I start poking at them, trying them out in various imaginary settings and see how they fit, and what aspects of their characters need more development.

    As I’m an artist, a lot of finding a character’s personality lies in drawing them. Repeatedly. Lots and lots of drawings trying out different expressions and poses until I find something that fits, and then I can build on that.

    Some characters arrive more fully formed than others – the male lead of Grassblades remains pretty much unchanged from the moment he sprang out of my pen, with only a few minor tweaks made to his backstory and personality – and so only really need a name and a setting to go with them.

    As for names…. they’re really important to me too. They have to *sound* right. When I find the right name for a character, it just *clicks*, and I can’t imagine ever naming them something else. I’ve got this one character, who is turning up much later in Grassblades, and I know I want him to have a very short name, possibly beginning with a “G”, but I can’t seem to settle on one. I’m going to have to poke at him some more before I find it.

    I never do those complicated character-interviews, though. There are a lot of templates for those floating around on the web, and they’re always filled with a bunch of pointless or off-topic questions – some are geared towards characters in settings different than the ones I write, some are hyper-detailed to the point of distraction (“What’s their favourite type of Halloween candy? Where did they go to elementary school? What did their grandmother give them for their 6th birthday?”) – and anyway, I never felt comfortable “interviewing” one of my characters, as that makes me take them out of their own setting/context.

    I much prefer just plunking them down in a scene and seeing what happens. I don’t have to write or draw it – though that’s helpful too – it’s enough to just imagine. If something works, it stays. If it doesn’t, it gets edited, changed or scrapped completely.

    Reply

    • Thank you for finally putting words as to why I despise those character interview templates.

      And good luck with “G,” whoever he turns out to be!

      Reply

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