Creative writing: who are your characters?

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Part 5 in the series ‘ enhancing your creative writing talent ’. By Melissa A Joy, fantasy writer and Blackheath Dawn consultant writer.

Do you ever wonder where your characters come from?  I read in my studies that characters are found rather than created.  This is about your relationship with your characters, and how to become better connected with them.  They come from your own mind after all; so it’s essential you understand them and what makes them tick.

How do we ‘find’ our characters?  I’m not really sure what the definitive answer is, but the best answer I can give is this; it’s magic.  Try to explain an invented fantasy or science fiction universe by simply saying ‘it’s magic’ and you will likely find yourself metaphorically flung in the stocks with all manner of insults and gibes hurled at you. But using that wonderful word ‘magic’ to tell others how your characters went from non existence to vivid beings displayed in the pages of a book is perfectly fine because there’s no other way to truly explain it.

When you’ve decided on what kind of book you want to write, and what environments your characters will be living in; only then will they start to reveal themselves.  At first you’ll only capture the merest glimpse of them, but the more you seek them out and want to learn about who they are, the more they’ll tell you.  Quite literally, they show you who they are.

A number of years ago, my boyfriend at the time told me that many of my characters resembled different aspects of myself.  And honestly, he was absolutely right.  Each of my characters has his or her own personality, They have their own virtues and flaws, and yours will too, but if you look ever so closely at them and try to understand them, you will find that there will be elements of who you are within them.  Their experiences might be entirely different from your own, but somewhere in the depths of your mind there will have been an experience in your own past that has given birth to their back-stories, and how they emerged where they are in the present day of your writing.

There are wheels within wheels in the minds of writers; there is always a theme or two – maybe more – linking back to the inner workings of the mind.  Those are things we may never truly understand, but we can know where the ideas come from, even if we cannot recall the initial spark that called them forth to the page in the first place.  It may have been as simple as an image of another character from a book you’ve read or game you’ve played, someone you once knew, a friend or family member, or maybe even a consultant doctor you met on your last visit to the hospital.  You don’t necessarily need to recreate them as they are, but personality traits, beliefs and morals and body language can all contribute to uncovering your characters and who they are as real people.

It can even be said of your villainous characters.  Everyone has a dark side.  However, this isn’t to say your antagonists need to reflect who you are; many are likely to reflect what you are not.  Nevertheless that still relates to you.  They may encompass the complete opposite of a mirror image of your beliefs, virtues and morals, and come into being that way.  You’ll love to hate some of them for those very reasons, and you’ll want to convey that to your readers so they know who to champion and who to despise with a passion.  Bear in mind though, there will always be those who fall into the categories in the middle.

Are you a hard-worker who is very serious about their work?  If so, do you have a carefree side in which you like to let loose every now and again?  If not, are you someone who just does what needs to be done but otherwise just likes to socialise?  Have you always been the studious type?  No?  Were you a skiver?  Did you ever go horse-riding?  Are you adventurous?  Are you religious?  Are any of your family members religious?  These are several questions you might ask yourself regarding where you might start to uncover characters, or discover more about them and who they are.

The truth is the relationships you have with your characters are essential to being a good writer, maybe even an excellent writer.  Who knows?  As you get to know them, you’ll likely find out some of them really do sound like one aspect of who you are.  It was only when my boyfriend at that time told me a handful of them reflected different sides of myself that I thought about it, and came to understand it to be true.

© Melissa A. Joy, fantasy writer & Blackheath Dawn consultant writer, 2015.

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One Response to Creative writing: who are your characters?

  1. Linda J Pifer March 29, 2015 at 1:46 am #

    Loved your thoughts on characters and how we find them. Really liked that some are direct opposites of who we are. Thanks Joy

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