I’ve always admired Stevie’s ‘Creativity Sessions’ for their purity of endeavor; I don’t think about writing so much as I feel burdened by the drive to write or by the procrastination instead of writing. I’ve accepted this lack in my self – always more emotion than logic, always more flailing than finesse. In an effort to find some middle ground, I thought I’d craft one of these for myself and see how it feels, you know? So tell me how I do in this, my personal step-by-step process of character building:
How does one find the best way to start? Rough drafts and awkward sketches I imagine. The main characters of my own fledgling novel started out as two childhood friends that I decided to tear apart and torture for a bit before catching up with them later in their chaotic lives. Ace Nikolai Lykaios and Rodrigo Gabriel Del Castillo were literally made to suffer and want. I knew nothing else at first other than that their friendship would be vital as would their difference of religion. This would also somehow take place in the future. Why you may ask?
“Robots,” I answer utterly serious. “Robots.”
Once I had that general idea of when and who, the other Ws & single H of good questioning began to get laid out for the characters to stand on: What, Where, Why and How. Let’s take those individually, shall we?
What? Well, gosh, what kind of story was this going to be? Surely I needed a general idea of that before moving forward. My main characters were a boy and a girl, close friends since childhood at that. Maybe a Cory and Topanga-esque love story plus robots? NO. Not my style. Too lovey dovey. Don’t get me wrong, lovey is great and all, but that dovey? She can be a bitch in the long run, and an annoying one at that. Romance isn’t what I like to read, so why would I ever try to foist that onto an audience? And thus it struck me: Write what you most like to read. Science fiction is my wheelhouse and I should lean into that. So I did and I do. Hard.
Where? I learned an important lesson with that question above and I carry that with me elsewhere. You see, the same underlying principle holds true here: maybe I’m not writing what I know from reading, but writing where I know from living. I have no business writing about sayyyy a small Texas town if I’m not willing to put in the research to make it accurate. And since my story can take place anywhere, why wouldn’t I set it down somewhere I know incredibly well? The setting isn’t a character in its own right (in my writing at least), but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have to be believable. Sometimes laziness is justifiably valid.
Why? Why should an audience care about these two crazy kids? What they experience, what they say, how they act, all the important under the surface stuffs that make people care about a character was mostly conceived here. If you ask me why someone should care about them, my answer would be two-fold: 1. because they are having the conversations that need to be had, and 2. because just like the reader, they too want for something more from life. They’re intended to be relatable, complex, caring; they were designed to help me, personally, but also a reader, answer questions they were too scared to ask. Hell, sometimes they answer questions I didn’t realize I even had.
How? How on earth can fictional characters carry the weight of real life individuals with all the very human quirks and flaws that go with them? Honestly, I have no idea how the real writers do it, but my goofy self will host full blown conversations with myself trying to react as I think each character would. Sometimes this is super simple: Ace reads much like I do, because she reacts and fails all the time, much like I do. Meanwhile, Rodrigo has a calm self-assured air I’ve never managed, so he takes way longer to coax out. I guess my ‘How’ is repetition: saying it over and over until it reads as authentic.
Look at all that solid character study we now have to stand on! Hurray us! From here comes the heavy lifting, if you will. Motivations, Weaknesses, Strengths, Fears, all that holds a person together was positioned here. The key for me was making sure that they all worked together to lead us to a functioning person. Like I couldn’t have made Ace afraid of water, but also a powerful swimmer, without explaining what pushed her passed that phobia and into the ocean. Each wall of personality had to compliment the others around it to form depth. No one likes a hallway to nowhere or four walls that box in a room, with no way in.
How many rooms, how many floors, how many closets? Some people are simpler and more easily understood than others. Some people are so complicated that they have levels to them that even they haven’t discovered yet. I think a good cast of characters should be a mix, but this is where a writer decides if their protagonist is all warm colors and fluffy pillows on the inside or if they’re empty and broken in there.
Physical Features! Is your hero too short to see on top of a refrigerator? Too fair to handle direct sunlight without dire consequences? Too attached to dirty jeans to be well-suited to a professional environment? These things matter. On the shallow side, it’s awesome to give your characters all the cool customized traits you always picked for gaming avatars. On the deep side, how your character looks will directly affect how their world around them treats them. Rodrigo has neon blue hair that falls in his eyes and is always messy. He’s a grown man, people. You know instantly upon encountering an adult with brightly dyed hair, that they do not care about conventional standards of acceptable outward appearances.
Some things from the beginning carry all the way through. Others really don’t. And once a character is complete, you have to accept that sometimes they don’t work. For instance, Ace – strong and damaged enough to carry her side of the narrative with flair and humor. Rodrigo? Not so much. He’s a great supporting character, but he couldn’t hold his own next to his shorter counterpart and I couldn’t change that without drastically changing the core of who I’d written him to be. So I adapted and wrote more characters from blueprints to finishing touches, until I found one I knew was a manor on his own: D’mitrius Zale. Where Ace is constantly reacting to life around her, D’mitrius is the driving force of his own existence. Where she will do anything to stay with her found family, he gave up his blood kin in the pursuit of better. Rodrigo is still along for the ride, but he’s not in the front seat with them.
And that was my first Creativity Session. ‘Twas exhausting if I’m blunt. It’s interesting to sit here and delve into the mechanics of this art, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me a little uncomfortable. I will be equally unsettled as time goes on though; this was a brief introduction into the process behind writing Of Suits & Sirens, my scifi book still in the editing portion of existence. In the upcoming weeks, more info about their world will pop up here on RSPC alongside my more commonly published poetry.
Wish me bravery!
One thought on “Building Characters To Hide Yourself Within”
Did you just soft-reveal your title?