Let me introduce you to Sarah Bella [shelikesitverbal.com]. Sarah and I write together most Tuesdays – that is we sit at the same table in our favorite sandwich shop and make words happen. Recently we decided to ask each other “Where do those character come from?” Here is her answer.
So, umm, where do your characters come from?
Isn’t that the question that every author gets asked?
And the answer is simple. I dunno.
I know, we’re eloquent.
The truth is that my characters just ‘come to me’.
There are characters who come to you fully formed, like Nova Harper Whitley, from Darkling. You know their full name and their place and date of birth. You know their family situation and what kind of car they drive. You can hear their voice in your head, telling you, “Write me! Write me!” But you don’t know what they look like or where they work or even where their story starts.
My favorites are the ones like Jax, also from Darkling, who just sort of lurk quietly and you know exactly what they look like and you know how they move and how they dress, but they don’t say anything at first. They just wait until you’re good and ready to hear their story. They haunt you for days, weeks, months. Every picture you see looks sort of like them, but not quite. And when they finally spill, they mean business.
There are jokes about writers having split personalities and imaginary friends. Those jokes are completely true. Some days, I feel like there are people living inside my head. They tell me when it’s time to write, when I can stop to eat, even when I can make a bathroom run.
One of the things that I have learned definitively is the characters come to you as who they are, and there is no sense trying to change that because it won’t work. They might leave blanks for you to fill in, but if your characters have told you something about themselves, it’s best to trust them.
The majority of my characters don’t come to me fully formed. I get an image, or a line, and go with it. For these characters, my favorite way to fill them in is people watching. I’ll go to the mall, grab a tea and just observe. I make notes of things that interest me, whatever the reason – I love the voice recorder function on my phone.
Sometimes I make up stories to go with the people I see, sometimes I just make note of an ugly sweater, but I take this compilation of people, and clothes and sweaters and see what seems to fit the character I’m working on. Sometimes I’ll see a woman wearing a dog sweater and my character will tell me he has two black labs.
In addition to my lists of clothes and traits, I also keep a list of names for those characters who aren’t named when they find me. I try to keep in mind their date of birth when I choose their name, but I have a list of roughly twenty names on a word doc that is always my first place to check. It’s a lot like naming a child – sometimes they just don’t look like a Sarah or a Nick or whatever name you thought you wanted.
In short, listen to the voices in your head. They’re probably just fictional characters, dying to get written.
You can find my response to the same question at her blog – She Likes it Verbal