In the beginning, there was one, and that one was the world…
Wow. I swear, that sounded better in my head.
I wanted to share a bit about my own writing processes. Everyone is different, and different things will work better for different people. I do not claim to be an expert in the field, but I thought, hey! People ask me these kinds of questions all the time! So why not WRITE about it?
For me, my stories, my worlds, all of it, it’s character based. Without a solid character, everything else falls apart. The story is pointless unless you have a character that will draw the interest.
So I always start with a character I find interesting or amusing. Said character has to have something in them which sparks my interest. What makes them special? Why? I usually get a faint spark of an idea from something random – it could be a song, a painting, a phrase… anything.
- Ex: Jo’s initial character concept was based on Avril Lavigne’s Ska8er Boi… shut-up. Stop judging me. It was a really long time ago.
And then I build.
So what makes your character so dang special? There’s got to be SOME reason why he or she is the main character of whatever narrative you’re working on. So what is it? It could be that they ARE the chosen one, or maybe they’re the one normal person awash in a sea of the fantastical. Maybe they’re that one little Hobbit who is just brave enough to step outside the Shire, or the Force is strong in them. Or they’re some kinda of ancient, reincarnated hero with super powers (*coughs*).
So what makes them worthy of your world revolving around them?
- Ex: Jo has super powers! GASP! Yep, she’s an illusionist and does the dream-walking thing (still in development). What else? Why, she happens to be one of those very reincarnated herolings who also happens to be CENSORED
The rest of the world doesn’t need to know WHY your main is so darn special, but you should. Keep that in mind while you’re writing.
I love flaws in a character. Even when I’m reading, I find that a character’s flaws make said character far more interesting than whatever quirk makes them special (and let’s face it, if you have a main character, they’re going to be special SOME how!). Sure, they might be a tad on the Mary Sue side, but can you tell me a single main who’s not?
Now, let’s not get overboard here. Find a few things which make your character stand out and keep him or her less than perfect. No one likes perfect. Perfect is boring.
‘Perfect’ is also not a flaw. Stop it.
Stuck for ideas? Pick up a gaming book. They always have lists of merits/flaws, advantages/disadvantages. It’ll give you a place to start.
- Ex: Jo has reoccurring nightmares, issues with authority figures, and a serious lack of self-preservation. When she uses her powers too much, she gets migraines and nosebleeds, and oh yes, speaking of powers, she doesn’t have much control over the dream-walking bit.
So now you have some flaws – great!
Where did they come from? How did they develop? Build their family, their history, their interactions. Did they have a family pet which meant the world to them? How about a childhood bestie who they just aren’t as close to anymore? Rivals? Allies? Were they popular in school? The outcast? How did their family treat them?
How were they treated after what ever made them special became known? How did they hide it?
Did they grow up rich? Poor? Thoroughly middle-class?
Was their family supportive? Degrading? Or simply not there? Are they close now? Non-communicative? Dead? If so, what killed them?
- Ex: Jo was abducted around age 12, and held for several days. During that time, her powers manifested for the first time. When she was brought home, she was treated like a monster by her family… so she gave them a ‘monster’ they could better understand (damn rebelious teenagers). The nightmares are from that abduction. She comes from an afluent family, but they are distant at best except for her one brother, Richard.
Once upon a time, when I was in college the first time, I like to say I studied just enough psychology to be dangerous. Then I just kept studying on my own.
Generally when I’m working on these different sections, I’m doing it all at once. I’ll pick a flaw, write the history around it, and determine WHY, and voila! I have an integral part of the character’s personality, and understand her motivations that much better.
You don’t have to have studied psych to do this, though. Just have a basic understanding of the human condition, and best? Ask yourself ‘why’ as you start breaking down your character’s actions and flaws. Why do they do X? Why were they thinking Y? Why did say Z? Why, why, why?
Think about your character’s history as you’re working on him or her. Try to understand how the different aspects would have effected the person as they grew older. Where did that personality come from? How did it develop? Start answering some of these questions, and it will help you understand your character better, and honestly, that will help you when it comes to writing them. But more on THAT topic later!
Work more at developing their personality here, too. Flushing it out. What do they like? What do they hate? What do they find fun? What is it that drives them forward through whatever adventure you have planned?
- Ex: Jo comes from a family of lawyers and politicians. She was raised not to trust, to second-guess, to always suspect ulterior motives (for more examples, read Mother Knows Best – it’ll give you a better idea of where the girl came from). Her family practically abandoned her after the abduction and the birth of her powers, so here we get even more trust issues. She was isolated, by both her own devices as well by parents who were frightened of these new developments.
So what can your character DO?
I’m not talking killing people with their mind kind of thing, but everyday, mundane skills.
Everyone has things they are good at and, at the same time, things they are bad at. And occasionally, things they are really, really good at.
Are they an Olympic level athlete? Would they burn down the kitchen like a Sim on their first try at cooking? Chess player? Artist? Musician? Can they drive? Could they be a masseuse? Speak any different languages?
Do they know how to fight? Why? What forms of fighting? Are they any good? Or just good enough to get away and run for help? (Hey, that’s heroic, too!)
Do they have any hobbies? Things they might be mediocre at, but that they simply love so do it anyway?
Remember! Perfect is boring…
- Ex: Jo had a classical upbringing due to her family’s wealth. She had a number of tutors growing up, and was enrolled in dance classes as well as gymnastics. She has quite an ear for languages, though this is largely due to WHAT she is (all Nasaru pick up foreign languages more easily). The expensive tutors only helped with this. What we DON’T see yet are the things she sucks at – there is a reason Jo doesn’t drive a car, despite being a trustfund baby and being 17.
I hope this breakdown and these examples help you with starting your own character. While I’m working on this, I tend to be doing it all at once rather than breaking it down into sections like this.
If it helps, make a rough-draft of a character sheet. It will give you a standing idea of what your character can and cannot do.
Maybe write an essay about the character or create a timeline of their life and the events.
Find a way to get to know your character better. Your stories will only improve as result.