Over the last few months I've been sharing about my process when I am writing a novel. Previously, I wrote about brainstorming, then last month I wrote about outlining. Today, I'll talk about one of my favorite elements.
For me, characters are one of the most important part of a novel. The plot might be simple, the magic ordinary, writing style not that great, etc. But if you have characters that I can completely fall in love with? Or even characters I may not like, but I find fascinating? I forget about the rest. Characters are the heart of a book and are what make you care about the story.
Then, building relationships around those characters. I love figuring out who is friends with who, their family dynamics, who will fall in and out of love, and seeing the differences between my protagonists and antagonists.
I will admit, for my current project, Vampire Snow White, figuring out my cast is pretty easy since it's a retelling. The cast is already there for me! Snow White, an evil queen/stepmother, a huntsman, the "prince," the "seven dwarfs," etc. But, the trick was still to find ways to make them unique to my book, and not in a way which is done often and would speak to my story the best.
The Main Character
This should be pretty obvious, but your main character is the one you should be spending the most time with. It's who the whole book is about after all! The author should know this character the best out of all of them.
Honestly, I'm slightly in love with my vampire version of Snow White. She completely fascinates me, and I think she's much different than your "typical" Snow White. Making her a vampire, and a particularly old on, gave her a much different vibe than other characters I've written before. I've loved trying to see the world through her eyes.
When you're the scariest thing in the room - what are you afraid of? When you've lived for several centuries, how do you view people and culture? What memories and time periods stand out to you the most? Why does the evil queen want you dead? What did you do to her? What is it about the prince character that you're drawn to? Why would you decide to live in a house with seven strangers?
Slowly, the pieces of her came together. I also took inspiration from some of my favorite vampire and historical figures I think she would appreciate. Researching the origin of the tale also helped me to shape her character.
I love reading and watching a great antagonist. They can make or break a story. But for some reason, I struggle writing them. I'm still working on my evil queen/stepmother character. She just isn't coming to me.
Maybe I'm just not evil minded enough. Who knows?
But, something I love to do when I have an antagonist is to compare them to my main character. I figure out how they're alike, and then see the ways they're different. Maybe they have similar backgrounds and personality traits, but they make different choices.
A classic example of this is in Harry Potter. As Harry learns Voldemort's history and plans, he notices that in many ways they are very alike. But, they made very different choices, which makes them excellent foils against one another.
As I've said in previous blog posts, I'm a pretty visual person when it comes to my characters. On my secret Pinterest boards, I pin images of who inspires my characters and it helps a lot. When I was first brainstorming about my "prince" character, he wasn't very clear in my head. He was just "some magic warlock sexy man guy." Then, I saw a photo of an actor and it was like lightening struck. I just though "that's him." All of the sudden I could sense his personality, his background, his style, and his values. He wasn't just the quintessential love interest. He was a person.
To Keep in Mind
When stuck on a character, the biggest thing to think of always is "what do they want, and what's preventing them from getting it?" Then, from there you can figure out why they want that certain thing, what would be the first things they try, who is in their way, etc.
Then, I think about their core values. Are they loyal? Are they selfish? Do they put friends or family first? What's the most important thing to them?
When you know their values, you can think of what would cause them to betray those values. You think about what can make or break the character. What's going to push them to their limits.
If you do a search on Google or Pinterest, you can find a ton of character sketches which are really helpful to start brainstorming characters. Scrivener has a character sketch template which is pretty bare bones where you can map out some key elements of their physical features, a few personality traits, background information, and a brief bio. For some people that works well. For others, they may want more details and you can find a ton of templates to help figure out the tiniest things like favorite colors, most embarrassing moment, people they admire, and favorite foods.
For me, I like to do these to an extent, but don't always go full out for each character. Sometimes, they just come to me and develop as I write. But, I do find character sketches useful when I'm getting stuck and they help me dig a bit deeper than just the surface level information.
Many times, I love to do character interviews. These were fun when I had longer commutes and during my drive I could put on some music and have a "conversation" with a character. It was surprising how much information I had stored away in my head that I didn't realize was there once I started "talking" to them!
Also, I've learned that you don't always have to like a character. But I do find that thinking they are interesting is important. I remember when I read the book Gone Girl that I really didn't like any of the characters. But they were fascinating, so I wanted to keep reading.
Who are some of your favorite characters from books, TV, or movies? What do you think makes them so great?