Blogging from A to Z · Writing

C is for Characters

When I start thinking of a new character, the first three things that pop into my brain are:

What does this character want?
What choices does this character have to make?
What conflict(s) does this character experience?

These questions are all what my writing methods professor last quarter referred to as “plot-generating questions,” because when you answer these questions, often, you start to see the beginnings of a plot, as well. Which is a method that works for me, because when I write, I always have my characters first, before any other pieces start to fall into place.

The first question, what my characters want, is important because characters are people, right? And people want things. I mean, people wanting things pretty much drives everything in this world, so it should apply to fictional worlds, too. So, for example, in SHARDS, my MC, Calanthe, wants to live happily ever after with the man of her dreams. Ethan, her fiance, wants to be accepted. Vantandal, the Other Man, wants his uncle’s approval. And, once I go back and fix things up and make my characterizations strong, all of their actions – or not, since there’s also the whole pesky social mores thing they’re working with, but I’m getting to that – will be able to be linked back to this whole idea of motivation.

Characters also have to make choices.

And what happens when what the characters want and what their choices are don’t match up? Conflict.

So, for example, Calanthe finds herself trying to make all sorts of choices – should she marry Ethan because it’s what her family wants, or should she refuse and hold out for what she really wants? Should she pick Ethan or Vantandal?

No matter what she chooses, she’ll have to give something up. For example, if she decides to marry Ethan, she has to give up what she really wants; if she goes her own way, her family probably won’t ever forgive her. And the tension produced here, is conflict, which makes things so much more interesting.

By characterizing Calanthe, Vantandal, Ethan, and the rest, the story can also write itself, more or less. The choices each character makes, can have enormous ramifications and can direct the direction that a story can take. For someone like me, who is a pantser, this is very handy, because it helps me to keep the story going without getting stuck. Instead of having events drive the story, my characters drive it. Sure, events happen – but how do my characters respond to it? I let their responses direct the next turns the story will take.

What about you? How do you create characters?

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12 thoughts on “C is for Characters

  1. Oh, how I love characters! I, too, always approach a new WIP with characters first. Story ideas pop into my head all the time, but until I know the MC, I can't write a thing – just doesn't work for me. I'm definitely a 'character-driven' writer. And I do try to answer those three questions before I sit down to write, but usually, I only have a very vague, wispy idea of what my character wants. I write until I know, and then my story begins. Sometimes I have 20-50 pages of stream of thought from my character before I know what she wants, but it's worth it. I know 20+ pages of her secrets!

  2. I think you may be right about the focus on character working for pantsers. I'm a pantser myself and going deeper into characterisation really helped my WIPs to have forward momentum where I used to get a bit stumped before. Hmmmm, I wonder how a focus on characterisation would work if one is not a pantser though… Would it distract from careful plotting?… Writing, thou art still a mystery to me in so many ways:)… Nice post, Stephanie:)

  3. I love your questions. I rarely have to ask these about my characters. They usually arrive lock, stock and barrel in my head carting all their baggage and not allowing me to neglect them.

  4. My characters are usually an amalgamation of parts of me, combined with people I've known. Then I throw them into situations they don't want to be in, and watch to see if they can figure out how to get out of them.

  5. It's always nice to have those extra bits of information! I write short stories about different characters, and I think that helps me way more than just opening a document and jotting all that stuff down.

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