Character Creation

You might have already gotten a few ideas for characters during your brainstorming last week. Or you might be scrambling to figure out who might fit into the plot you’ve been trying to plan. Whether you’ve got a host of characters and are trying to figure out who will be your main character or you’re just starting to delve into character, there are a few simple questions you can ask yourself to create the best characters to match your story and your world.

But first, a warning. The best characters take on a life of your own, and will do unexpected things, occasionally drastically changing your plot. This can happen even in later drafts. If this starts happening–or you realize during this line of question that the person you thought to be your MC is actually just a sidekick–go with it. Don’t fight it; fighting the wish of the characters will only make your story fall flat.

Consider yourself warned. Now on to the questions!

1. Who has the most to lose in the scenario I’ve created and why? The reason you ask yourself this is to find your main character. The best main character is generally the one who has the strongest need and is willing to go the furthest to get it. Figure out who this is, and you’ve got your MC. If there are two characters with opposing but equally strong needs in relation to the story, you’ve got both your MC and your villain. See how easy that was?

2. What is this character’s prized possession? This is good to know because it adds depth. Sometimes you learn more than just what the object is when you ask this question. For example, my female MC Valtessa’s most prized possession is actually a hand-carved family of soapstone elephants given to her by her mother. By figuring that out I learned both that elephants do exist on her world–although nowhere near her–and that in spite of locking her up when she was a child, her guardians let her keep something to remind her of her mother. Often, even if you know nothing of your world yet except as it pertains to the story, you’ll learn more about it when you ask this question.

3. Has this character ever been in love before? This question will give you some background on the character. If they haven’t, find out why–maybe they’re from a religious order where love is a sin, or maybe they’ve never really been exposed to other people. Of course, they might just be incredibly cold and have difficulty with their emotions, both having and understanding them. If they have been in love, try to find out with whom, when, and what happened. You might discover there’s another character–a lover, lost or recent–waiting in the wings.

4. What does this character think of themselves? This is an important question. Everyone’s always telling you how important your self esteem is, so why wouldn’t your character’s be, too? You’ll probably figure out a lot more about this when you get into the world and figure out how they fit into society in terms of class, religion and gender roles. For now you’re just looking for a basic answer–do they like themselves or hate themselves? Perhaps they like their talents or their personality, but hate their body. Figure out how they feel about themselves, and you’ll have lots of fodder for introspection and an easy way to create a character arc.

These questions should help you figure out a little bit about the characters you’re creating and give you an idea who your main character should be this November. Over the course of this week we’ll discuss character arcs in more detail and go over a couple exercises designed to help you figure out more about your characters.

What questions do you like to ask your characters?