Fictional characters are so much fun to create. Like people you know, they have feelings, motivation, challenges, and a rich backstory. Characters feed your story. They drive plot, cause problems, offer resolution, act up, make up, and save the day. Building believable characters is an art, a talent a writer gets better at with each new interesting made up individual. Can’t think of any to place in your story besides the main character? Think again.
Consider all of the people you encounter in just one day of your life. Even a mundane, non-eventful day, like a Tuesday in February. There is the silent hurried milk delivery guy who hustles up to your porch steps at 3:30am in the snow. What is he all about? Or the quirky old lady that stands on the street corner like clockwork every weekday morning at 7:30am, bundled to the nose in mismatched winter outerwear, seemingly gazing into the distance at the elementary school two blocks away. What the heck is her deal? These real people that you drive by, walk past, and greet with a silent nod on the street are the very seeds of colorful characters waiting to take the stage in your next novel.
You have to invest time to really get to know the characters you create. Ask yourself, where do they come from? Where are they going? Build a visual in your mind of what they look like, how they act, and how they see the world you put them in. Do they resemble a famous person? Often, characters are based on very real people in the author’s life, with added layers of detail, small changes to appearance, an exaggeration of purpose. Some of the best characters are born from what the writer knows best. And yes, some writers have a knack for creating exceptionally interesting, completely made up personalities that hook the reader right from the beginning. Only the author ever knows for sure who is real and who is not. It’s a well-earned secret they keep with them always, never to share. Besides, who wants to get into trouble?
I was recently on vacation in the Bahamas. Even though I am not actively writing a book at the moment, I am always on the lookout for interesting people I may encounter that could become a character in a future story. Traveling is one of the best opportunities to really expand on what you know about people and open your eyes to new possibilities. In just a few days time, I was presented with literally hundreds of options for new and interesting characters. I was fully expecting this and took note of the top five or so people I kept running into or who really stood out. Favorites include the overweight and sweaty private yacht owner drinking at the casino bar, the pretty young twenty-one year old girl vying for his attention, and the overzealous jet ski vendor harassing beachgoers for their business. The accents of the locals and foreign vacationers, the way they dress, their habits, overhearing snippets of their conversations – all ingredients for the recipe that is a great character.
The next time you walk down the hallways at work, sip your favorite caffeinated beverage at an out of town coffee shop, make an unexpected stop at Walmart on a roadtrip, or sit next to an interesting person on an airplane, mentally take note of the details of that individual if they catch your attention and write it down somewhere safe for another day when you need a villain, savior, sister, or boss. You can never tell exactly what your imagination, mixed in with a little reality, can do for a story.
Article written by Anne M. Carroll