A while ago, a good friend of mine, Bryan Edmonson, asked me for advice on character development. And I didn’t know what to tell him. How do you create characters? How do you make them feel like real people? To be honest, I’m not sure is as simple as following some strict conventions or rules. Or as complicated as that.
Actually, all the characters that mean something to me are one of the following:
- Inspired by people I’ve known/met/read about
- Inspired by people I’ve loved or cared about
- Inspired by the type of person I was or wished to be at some point in my life
- Inspired by the type of person I am now or wish to be in the future
And that’s it.
But if you take a closer look at this list of mine, they’re all powerful ways of fleshing out a character. People I care about on a personal level, people who have inspired me to become the person I am today (after all, my first dedication went like this, “To all the people that changed my life. For better or worse.”) And then we have the past, which is a tremendous influence on any writer. My past or someone else’s, but something I can relate to. Or something I consider to be important.
How I see it, the only way to make your characters feel real is to write about real people. Change, embellish, discard as much as you like, but at the core, the human element, that’s something you shouldn’t change. All my characters start as people… then they become characters. Not the other way around.
I can make them do anything or everything I want, I can make them as fantastic or as bland as I desire, but in essence, they still resemble the people who have inspired the characters in the first place.
A lot of writing has to do with observing. Seeing how other people act/react, how they talk, how they behave under certain conditions.
Imagination is useless in a dark room if you’ve never stepped out of that dark room.
Like another friend of mine, John. He writes down titles for his paintings. It gives him a starting point. The canvas feels less empty that way. Maybe this is a good way to create a character. Start from somewhere, start by writing about a person you know, and then make it something else.
And now for one of those subtle marketing technics: “buy my books.” If that didn’t work, go here.