Friday, August 1, 2014

Creating Characters

A question I'm often asked is how I go about creating characters—and it's certainly a huge part of the writing process.
Malian of Night
Usually, my characters either 'spring forth' in an instant, fully formed Athena style, or they evolve over time a long time before I begin writing. Yet even with the evolving characters, there’s often a flashpoint moment – usually an image of the character in a place or situation where their identity becomes ‘concrete.’ Sometimes it can be the ‘voice’ of the character I hear first. The flashpoint also comes with with far more backstory around what the character’s life is, and the challenges ahead—which is when the writing begins.

In the case of Malian, in the The Wall Of Night series, the flashpoint was an image of her scaling the interior wall of an ancient, ruined castle that was imbued with shadows and a bloody history. She had already been with me a long time at that point, but that was the moment in which her character and journey really became clear. As the series has developed, Malian's character has continued to evolve in relation to events, as well as to changes in the characters around her.

I feel it's important that happen, since it’s a vital part of making characters real. I also believe that character continuity is vital to the authenticity of a story—which means that a character cannot just go and do something against her or his nature, as established in the story thus far, simply to advance the next element in the plot. Not if I’m “keeping it real” as a writer.

Malian is a major character and so obviously gets a lot of attention. But for me, a yardstick of writing quality is whether the minor characters, for whatever brief time they are on the stage of the story, are equally real. One way I like to think about this in my own writing is that even if a character is not important to the story being told, he or she (or "it", since I do write fantasy!) will be important to him or herself. Even the most minor character will have a history and a life that matters to them—and as the writer I have to convey a sense of that.

When an author does this successfully, I believe it adds depth and texture, as well as conviction, to the story. I know it adds greatly to my enjoyment of a book when I don my reader’s hat.


Kim Falconer said...

Great post, Helen, as always. I particularly like your point about minor characters:

"Even the most minor character will have a history and a life that matters to them—and as the writer I have to convey a sense of that."

So important.


Helen Lowe said...

And our job as authors to catch that 'flavor!'