How I Create Characters Now


I’ve been wanting to share now I create characters now for a while. I’ve written several different posts about characterization before, but my methods have changed even since writing Blood and Water (remember Sean’s journal?). When I first started writing—or rather, when I got serious about it—I thought you couldn’t create a well-rounded, three-dimensional character without compiling a detailed character inventory. I sorted through and collected dozens of questionnaires like this one, this one, and this one. They covered almost every aspect of humanity imaginable, from birthday and height to fears and aspirations. Some even included space for you to draw or paste a picture of what your character looked like.

I never used these questionnaires. They intimidated me. Whenever I tried to fill them out, I got stuck. My brain shut down. Why did I need to know how long my characters’ showers were, what they liked to eat for breakfast, or what their favorite smell was—especially if it wasn’t relevant to the book I was writing?

Answer: I didn’t. I’m not saying that these answers aren’t relevant to some people, or that these questionnaires never work, but they sure don’t work for me. No, not at all. I get so bogged down in coming up with the “right” answers that I don’t let the characters breathe. They become inorganic. They lack reality. I hate that.

Every character I’ve produced with the help of a questionnaire has turned out flatter than the state of Florida. While writing Blood and Water, I threw the questionnaires in the trash, asked the characters direct questions that related to the novel, and listened to the answers in their own words. Sure, it sounds hokey, but I don’t care. It works.

Before I started writing Reflections, the characters were knocking around inside my head for several months. For me, the characters always come first. Rama demanded that I tell her story. She revealed just enough of herself for me to get started. She continues to reveal herself as I write more and more.

That’s one of my favorite things about the writing process—listening. Receiving information, taking it all in, and then analyzing it to figure out what I can and cannot use. For me, writing is primarily a journey of discovery. I follow the seeds of the story and the players where they lead. I let them do the talking. I worry about fixing inconsistencies later.

So far, that seems to be working just fine.

How do you create your characters?

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How do you create your characters? Check out @brianawrites' new process. (Click to tweet)