Think about your favorite books, the stories you’ve read over and over again, that have stayed with you long after you’ve finished them. What is it about them that pulls you in? Why do you keep turning the pages?
Sure, sometimes it’s nothing more than morbid curiosity, a need to just get to the end at all costs. Maybe it’s the setting, somewhere exotic or fantastical that takes you to a different world. Any of those may play a part, but for me, it’s all about one thing:
Creating imaginary people that the reader truly cares about is a challenge and a whole lot of fun. The reader has to want the good guys to win, to be happy, to get the thing they want most. The villain also has to have you rooting for them: either to get their comeuppance, or to defeat the protagonist. Building a villain is almost as much fun for me as writing the cinnamon-roll men and strong women in my stories. Plus, it’s a great way to exorcise any personal demons by living vicariously through the bad guy on the page.
Not that I do that.
Every author has their own system that works for them, and there is no right or wrong way to go about it. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something. My personal process is honestly far less organized and rational than it should be (think Jeremy Bearimy). It probably doesn’t even qualify as a ‘process’, but it works for me.
- Not gonna lie – I usually start with an imaginary conversation I’ve had inside my head. Whether it’s from a real-life encounter or a ‘what-if’ scenario, what the people say to each other is my first step in building the lives I want to be part of. (And then ultimately destroy, before giving them a happily-ever-after.)
- Once I have the basic, superficial idea, I dive deeper. Why do they do what they do, want what they want? What do they believe in? There are some fantastic templates out there that help build the backstory. I have the best of intentions when I start one of these character sheets, but I never finish them. Partially because I don’t know the characters very well before the story is written. But mostly because I’m just far too impatient.
- Creating a villain is one of my favorite things and I frequently cackle maniacally while I breathe life into him or her. This is where my True Crime obsession finally pays off; I start with what the villain does and then work backwards, like a BAU team does. Are they villains because they use unreasonable tactics to do what they think is ‘the right thing’? Is it because they want revenge, love, money? Or are they just sociopaths?
There are so many delicious possibilities.
Some authors will keep a diary from a character’s point of view, create a vision board, build a playlist, or design a wardrobe. I will search for the picture of an actor, musician, or model who most resembles how I see the character in my mind. ALL of these ways are valid, and brilliant, and useful, and will contribute to the creation of an entire sort-of person.
Don’t let anyone tell you that your process is wrong. Who decides that, anyway? I can pretty much guarantee that no two authors create their characters using the same tools. Find what works for you and stick with it!
What is your process? Do you know everything about your characters before you start or, like me, do you let them tell you about themselves along the way?
Comment below or send me an email and lets talk about it!