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Questions Writers are Tired of Answering: Where Do Your Characters Come From?

7

June 18, 2013 by Renee

But if you stopped asking, we’d get all depressed and weird, so don’t mind our whining.

So, where do my characters come from? My ass? That’s the honest-to-god answer for that question 99% of the time for me. I make them up. They’re fictional, right? But that’s not fair. Readers are truly curious and when they read a character they love, it’s a natural thing to wonder how that brilliant writer came up with such awesomeness.

So, for anyone wondering where my characters come from, I have a few “inspirational” sources that help put those characters in my ass so I can pull them out as needed (You like that visual, eh?):

Dreams

Yep. Sometimes I just dream about something and voila! A character is born. While writing Dirty Truths, I had a secondary character that I’ve mentioned before named Thomas. He wasn’t even a blip in the book. Just a tool to add some tension in a couple of scenes. He was faceless, without much personality. I didn’t want him to be anything fantastic, because he was a prop. But my brain disagreed and I dreamt about Thomas for several nights. He got a face, a backstory and I kind of fell in love with the guy. So I rewrote what I had written (it was about ½ finished at this point) to make Thomas a major player. I also gave him his own story. I haven’t written it yet, but someday I will.

People

I’ll never reveal “who” inspired a particular character, because there’s no one in particular that I base a character entirely on. But I do draw traits from people I know or have heard/read about. For example, Jackson Murphy is a compilation of myself, my father, and various ex-boyfriends, friends, etc. Sometimes, it’s as simple as seeing a stranger while I’m forced to be outside and imagining their story.

The Story

Sometimes the story itself creates the character. Usually I write characters first, and proceed with the story. Almost all of my novels evolve from a character, but once or twice I’ve had the story idea first, and the characters fell into place from there. For me, this is the hardest way to create characters because I usually have a good chunk of novel written before the characters are fully formed in my mind. That means I have to go back through what I’ve written and rewrite every damn scene so the characters feel more real and aren’t doing stupid things.

Kurt

Yep. He’s a good character guy. Usually it starts with, “What if this guy…?” or “You should write about someone who….” But don’t tell him. He’ll want a cut of my fame later on and I don’t plan to share.

Current Events

I avoid watching the news too often, because it’s usually depressing as shit, but sometimes, I accidentally catch something.  Sometimes a current event is just too big to ignore. And a few of the players in these current events spark an idea for a character of my own. It might be no more than their appearance, but usually it’s something they’ve said or done that lights my creative fire. Once or twice, I just like their names and go from there. Yes, it really is as basic as that.

History, Legends and Myths

My upcoming paranormal series, FOR THE LOVE OF GODS is full of characters from Greek Mythology. I’ve made them my own, but they are based on actual legends, because their names are too well-known for me to completely pants them. Other characters evolve from real historical figures or events we’ve all read about. I have to tell you, I don’t know how any kid can be bored by history. It’s just crammed full of good shit.

My Ass

And of course, as I said before, most of my characters come from my ass. Most of my stories begin with a character that needs a plot. A lot of times I’ll have a name, and I build the character around that or around a life history I’ve outlined as part of the story idea. Sometimes, I’ll add a character, slapping a temporary name on him, and flesh him out as I go. More often than you’d believe, my characters just happen. There’s no inspiration, no source; they just arrive, fully-formed in my head. I can only guess how long they were hiding in my ass, waiting for the right moment to emerge. You know, that might explain my generally irritable nature.

And that, dear readers, is where I come up with my characters. Writers out there, for the millionth time, share with us: Where do your characters come from?

 

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7 thoughts on “Questions Writers are Tired of Answering: Where Do Your Characters Come From?

  1. “[…] but once or twice I’ve had the story idea first, and the characters fell into place from there. For me, this is the hardest way to create characters because I usually have a good chunk of novel written before the characters are fully formed in my mind. That means I have to go back through what I’ve written and rewrite every damn scene so the characters feel more real and aren’t doing stupid things.”

    THIS is exactly what gives me the biggest headaches about my story. I came up with the conflict first (the twisted situation and its details), then the world, and only then—as I wrote—with the characters. It’s fucking hard to get them and their backgrounds and their motivation aligned just right to fit the story and make it work. And make it compelling and page-turner-y on top of that. Groan.

    I swear, I will never do this again. Characters first. My head is swarming with them anyway. 😉

  2. Renee says:

    I find when I’m stuck like that, I have to stop writing, develop the character, then change the story to fit the character.

  3. S. L. says:

    My work-in-progress incorporates a lot of Greek Mythology, too. Lots of good stuff to work with.

    • Renee says:

      I am obsessed with Greek Mythology. I didn’t consider incorporating it into my writing until I accepted a challenge to do NaNoWriMo instead of making fun of it. (Glad I did it too.)I had t pull a story together fast, so I dug into my character vault and pulled out Thanatos.

      The characters are so insane, that you can really take them anywhere. 🙂

  4. rjkeith says:

    I haven’t quite figured out where my characters come from yet. I’m pretty sure they’re a compilation or everyone I’ve ever met and pieces of myself. Sometimes they’re faces in my imagination that eventually come out and get fleshed out with personalities and stories as I write. Other times they’re fully formed.
    It’s a roll of the dice with me.

    • Renee says:

      @rjkeith: Do you start with story first? This always fascinates me, because I have such a hard time writing a character to “fit” a plot. My best characters are those that come before the plot is fully developed in my head, or occasionally at the same time.

  5. […] friend and fellow writer Renee Miller (aka The Killer Whisperer) wrote a post recently about the source of her inspiration. And a thing she said reminded me of the main problem I’m facing with my own story — I […]

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Renee

Renee

I like to write stuff. Sometimes it's funny. I've published some novels and short fiction. I also battle an addiction to cake and potato chips, and I sometimes have inappropriate fantasies involving Kevin Spacey.

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