One of the hardest things for people to do is create characters for their stories - or at least flesh out the ones in their minds. For me, I have a couple ways I focus on this. Over the next couple weeks, I'll also introduce the main characters in the world of Forty Isles.
(For those who have been reading the bi-weekly updates, I have finished the novel, but I am in the process of editing. I'll begin posting again soon enough.)
Where do I Find Ideas?
For me, I tend to focus on characters first then work out their worlds. World-building is the hardest part for me. Typically, I have a general idea of a story and the character I want to focus on from there.
Character banks offer a plethora of ideas, and are easily found. Writers will also use people they know as a basis, but make the character different enough so the person won't be offended.
This is one reason to keep a writer's journal. You can stash photos, words, ideas inside it for when you need a character.
How do I Build my Character
This is always my favorite part of character building because there are so many parts of the process. To build my characters I focus on names, appearance, background, and personality.
The first thing I focus on is the character's name. This, I feel, establishes a character even better than their appearance. I have a friend who has a very generic name, but he is nothing like you expect. Use the expected and unexpected when developing a character.
Several name books, sites and lists exist including themed ones for sci-fi or fantasy, or particular eras such as Victorian. These work especially well in popular genres. If you write historical fiction, these lists can be very useful if accurate. Certain names were not in common use or had a ethnic connection. Irish names were illegal under English rule, though certain ones were often used. My own name, Bridgette is one of those names that sometimes escaped notice. During certain time periods, it was also connected to Swedish heritage. During the Victorian era, it was once again used, but was often coded to be a bad character in literature.
One of my friends looks up the most popular names from the year a character would be born and chooses one from the list. I usually focus on the meaning of the names as well as my impression of names. If in doubt, make up a name. I had a friend whose name was a combination of her father's and mother's names.
For names, however, I would recommend a little discretion, especially if the name is popular. Try seeing how others present the name. Also, if you are using a name not a part of your culture, see how it's used in its culture. I had fallen in love with a name for an Irish character until I learned that the name was a slur used against one of the religious groups in Ireland.
Next, how does the character look? If you can draw, this might be the starting point. For me, it's usually step 2. It's something I'm working on as I want to be able to illustrate my novels and a few novels would make better webtoons.
I normally have an idea of my character's appearance, so I type in the parameters and go from there. For example, Mederei, Caradoc and Hugh are all redheads with brownish skin. I can search redheads male or female and scroll through Pinterest until I find a photo of what I think the character looks like. (If you want to see an example, check out my Pinterest board for
Caergwlân.) I also use the photos for world-building as I try to organize how the culture looks.
If anything, writing down the character's stats is a good place to start: height, age, hair and eye color, complexion, physical limits, athleticism and more. I'm horrible at interpreting height to weight, so I do have to find photos to see how someone who is 5'9" might look at different weights or what a weight might look like on different heights.
This can be a fun part of characters or one of the hardest parts. Also, there isn't a need to have the character's entire life history created either. Important dates or events are effective as well as family dynamics. In this section, their religious views (if any), sexual identity, family life, marital status, location, socio-economic level are needed.
Besides the common ones listed above, musical and artistic abilities; handicaps (physical, emotional, mental or health); clumsiness or athleticism; technical skills; magical abilities; languages are something to consider.
Personality & Beliefs
Based upon the previous information, the character's personality can develop. Sometimes, people will be the opposite of what someone things they will be. Someone who grew up conservative could be conservative or liberal. Someone who is from a high social class may be economically poor.
Is your character aggressive, passive or passive-aggressive? Are they smart or average? Do they have common sense? Can they find their way out of a maze? How did their background affect how they view themselves and the world around them? Did it make them optimistic, pessimistic? Do they tend to look over their shoulders or are they trusting?
This is the point where the character begins to take form as an individual character not just a common idea.
I Have a Character - Now What?
Here, you need to continue developing their world, their story and how it works. This is the part where the character's interacts with other characters and makes conflict which leads to resolutions or not and a story begins.