Article 2: Characters   4 comments

How To I Write: Characters

© Katica Locke, 2011

Thinking up a great story is only half the battle, and sometimes, it’s the easier half. You also need characters, people for your readers to connect with and feel for, and if you’re lucky, they may love them as much as you do. My books are mainly character driven, so without interesting, believable characters, the best plot in the world is going to fall flat on its face.

When starting any new project, I begin with an outline. You can read about my outlining process here. Every outline begins with a brief character profile. And when I say brief, I mean just the basics, just a single paragraph of vital information. All of this information has been floating around in my head during the brain-storming phase of the writing process and now my job is to try to make sense of it all.

I start with a general age, then gender, species and race, hair, eye, and skin color, and finally height and build. If they have any unusual physical features, I list them next, like scars, horns, or tails. Then I think up the three most defining personality traits for a character. Are they kind, funny, and shy? Intelligent, egotistical, and sadistic? Friendly, naive, and socially-inept? Of course there’s far more to a character than these three traits, just like real people, but it helps to have a place to start, a first-impression of the character, if you will.

After the vital information is recorded, I jot down any backstory that I know, events that helped shape the character’s personality, or placed them in the situation they’re in when the story begins. I also make notes on existing relationships with other characters. And that’s about it. This profile is in no way written in stone, either. I will often go back to it and add or alter certain details to work better in the story. I try to keep the profiles up-to-date as I write for quick reference if I forget what color someone’s eyes are or what age they were when they became a werewolf.

Here are a couple of examples of working profiles from current stories that I’m writing:

Nico Wellex — 35, male, human, short blond hair, green eyes, tanned skin, several scars from sword and knife-fights, lean, athletic, intelligent, shrewd, manipulative, pirate.

Lord Leander Raebone — 164 (looks 40), male, human mage, the Sun Mage, long golden/orange hair, golden eyes, golden skin, average height, slender build, elegant, restrained, sympathetic, longing.

Izeri Auve (Moonlight) – 19, male, weather fey/wereshival, long silver hair, bright blue eyes, coal black skin, slight build, slender, black, blue, and silver wings, reserved, keeps people at a distance, hates his spirit. At sixteen he witnessed a Huntsman execute a wereshival, the spirit chose him, he hid it, confided in his best friend, friend told others, Izeri was shunned, the principal suggested he’d be safer at a special school, his parents transferred him, told him not to tell anyone, Izeri hasn’t told a soul since. He has a very strong spirit, it fights him, takes control.

As you can see, the first two profiles are quite short. I haven’t worked on those stories much, so I don’t have all the backstory worked out yet. Izeri, on the other hand, is an old friend. He was a minor character in Broken Wings and now has his own WIP novel that I’m working on.

Sometimes, it feels like the characters spring from my mind fully-formed and ready to get to work. Other times, I have to piece them together bit by bit, deciding what traits will work best with the plot and with the other characters, and what sort of history will create the drama and conflict that I’m looking for

But even with all this careful planning, characters can still develop a mind of their own and hijack the plot. The best example of this in my stories is Akitra, a lust faerie from Broken Wings. Akitra started out as a minor character, a bad friend for Maika to help illustrate how isolated Maika was in faerie society. Then Akitra exerted himself as an antagonist for Jak and Izeri, and for a while, I thought he was the “bad guy”. But as I “discovered” his history, his motivation, and his own deeply hidden needs and desires, he evolved into a third protagonist and by the end, even I wanted him to get a happy ending.

Most characters do not take me on quite such a ride, but I know that at any moment, even my most well planned out character could turn around and surprise me. I wouldn’t have it any other way.


Posted July 12, 2011 by katicalocke

4 responses to “Article 2: Characters

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  1. I love how Akitra evolved in Broken Wings. He always made things interesting.

  2. I have the most trouble in picking out names. Did you make yours up? Or did you find it on a website?

    • Since I write mostly fantasy, I usually make them up. Sometimes, if I need a name for a specific real-world culture, like my Navajo werewolf in Will Work for Blood, then I’ll look them up on a website.

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