Monday, August 15, 2011
How to Build Fictional Characters
As writers of fiction, it's so important to create characters that are believable. How do you do that when technically the characters don't exist?
Writer's use different strategies for creating believable characters. Over the years, I've played with a few strategies, running from some and embracing others. However, even the ones that I've run from are not without merit. They work for some writers. Just not me.
After playing with character charts are questionnaires, I've settled on my favorite way to create characters. I write a first person letter to me in my characters POV. At first, the letter is pretty basic and dry. I just give information like, "I was born in Boston Massachusetts right after they started working on The Big Dig." Quite honestly, the first few pages of my letter I suffer through. I just want to create a visual image of a generic person in my head so I can get to the good stuff. Once all the boring stuff is taken care of, i.e. high school attended, siblings, etc, I start to get to the good stuff. After I have my mannequin of a character, I can start dressing him/her.
From page 3 to however long it takes me, I start filling in details. Usually at this point I've flexed my muscles a little, I'm writing, and words just start pouring out of me and my character is taking shape. Not the basics. The good stuff. This is where I learn that my hero had a huge crush on his older sister's best friend when he was 14 because instead of going home when his sister got on the phone and started arguing with her boyfriend, she used to hang out on the porch with him and eat Cheese Puffs while they talked. Or that his first time out in the field as a cop he'd made a colossal rookie mistake that almost cost him his life. Or that he can't stand wearing shoes and will walk around in sandals or in his bare feet. You get the picture.
These details are details you can't get from a character chart or questionnaire. I can't look at question 35 and answer that my character has suffered from asthma since childhood unless I know a story that goes with it. The jewel in all this is that much of this back story not only helps round out the character and make them seem real, it helps me build scenes to use in my story.
How do you build fictional characters? What tools and strategies do you use?
Until next time,