Writing Echoes

Delijah's Writing Blog

Thinking about where characters come from

A friend of mine linked me to an Open University course on creative writing [link]. As I was going through it, I came across this couple of paragraphs on creating characters:

There seem to be two different types of character. There’s the type that just turns up at your shoulder like a ghost and insists on being written. This is rather spooky, it’s a bit like being a medium. The other kind of character is the sort that you invent more or less from scratch or create as a composite of various people that you’ve noticed or come across. And the one thing that does happen though is that as soon as the character begins to become real, he or she starts misbehaving, and they don’t do what you tell them to do. You often find yourself altering the story to accommodate your characters. Your plans always go wrong

It’s partly good old-fashioned empathy; with a certain amount of effort you can imagine what it’s like being somebody else. If these characters are conveniently nearby you can always go and ask them and listen to them talking. And quite often with a character, all you’ve got to do is start them talking, like yakking in your head – it’s a bit like being a paranoid schizophrenic but it’s under control, you know, you’ve got all of these voices going on in your mind – you just let them talk. And they develop quite happily on their own.

Louis de Bernières

Source: [link]

Which is reassuring after reading about eight or so authors speaking about ‘building’ up characters and how to create them from scratch. I realised then that most of my characters are not ‘built’, they just happen. I remember the precise point in which one Okonogi Kazuki happened, I was walking from work to my car, it was lunch break and it was sunny – a feat where I used to live. When I came out of the building he just did not exist, and three minutes later he was there, yelling. The yelling is literal. It was like having someone in my brain demanding attention and a story and I swear he fleshed out himself, without me having much to do with it. So the paranoid-schizophrenic thing? 100% check.

I am trying to pinpoint where my characters come from as I write this, and I have to say that I am not completely sure. Okonogi is an exception, usually they pop up in blurry form, and they get fleshed out slowly as the story develops, or as I delve into their inter personal relationships. Sometimes a character ends up being something completely opposite to what I had thought I needed – or from who inspired them, and I like that… most of the time. It causes boosts of “curse you, Character, for screwing up my nice outline!!”. Then again, as the Internet would say… “Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal” [link] which is usually not as sudden as inevitable…

Writing Victim #14 I am doing a fun exercise, which is trying to describe the characters with just one word. Part of the killer’s MO is finding the word that best describes each of his victims, and I seem to do it for all of them. Of course, just one word does not work to completely describe a character (yay! It means that they are 3D and not cardboard characters) but it feels like the name of the seed they were built from.

I am suddenly left wondering if my brain is such a dangerous place right now, what with the paranoid-schizophrenia and the psychopath traits when I get into the serial killer’s mind… I’ll try not to feed myself after midnight, just in case.

Or maybe we just got into light-saving time and my brain is still in weird mode…

Contents by Open University licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Licence and taken from here [link].
The tick/cross image is from the OpenClip library [link].
Louis de Bernières’s homepage [link]

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2 responses to “Thinking about where characters come from

  1. Denise March 29, 2012 at 00:23

    Actually, since I am here, I have a new version of character plopping out of nowhere. I’d call it the triggered appearances. For example Jasmine jumped at me the moment I saw a special outfit through the open door of a small clothes shop. Ryuzaki jumped when I saw someone with only half his hair dyed… He literally told me “that guy stole my haircut”… I wanted to reply “and who exactly are you?” but that felt too schizophrenic.

    • Sakaki Delijah March 29, 2012 at 08:53

      Well, I believe that most of my characters get triggered by something or another. It might be more or less obvious, something physical, like you mention with Jasmine and Ryuzaki, or even a fleeting thought or a character from somewhere else.

      I do the “who the hell are you?” quite often, when one of them plops. I guess I have opened myself to the schizophrenia XD