Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Creating Characters

Today I posted a link to a blog post I recently did about how my real life influences my writing. http://abookagirlandablog.wordpress.com/2014/06/24/guest-post-from-liz-schulte/

I was asked on Twitter (shout to @celticora !) what I actually do to build my characters. So I am going to try to put that process in words. I mean I’m a writer I should be able to do this. I’m a professional dammit!

So when I start a new book or introduce a new character the very first thing I need to know is what does this character want in relation to the story. Next I ask what function does this character play in the story.
For example, when I introduced Femi as a character in Choices (Book 2 of the Guardian Trilogy) my very first thought about her was she wanted adventure. At the very core of her character, all of her decisions, and all of her actions she is about finding adventure and thrills in life. That is who she is. Next she needed a function in my story. Well, Olivia needed a friend so there was an opening. The trick is though I can’t make my characters like the people I introduce to them.

I have tried in the past to plan a character solely designed to be the friend of my main character, but it doesn’t always work. In Dark Passing I decided Ella needed a friend. It took me three separate attempts to get her to connect with another character before I finally found the right one. Like real life chemistry is necessary and all characters do not have chemistry together.

So back to Femi, I introduced her to Olivia. (excerpt of their meeting below)
                "Not a friendly lot." I mumbled to myself as a strange horned creature gave me the stink eye. Maybe making friends wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought. Being social had never been my strength.
"You'll have to excuse them. They aren't used to humans watching them so openly," said a voice behind me.
I turned to see a pretty girl, with long amber colored hair and skin so bronzed it nearly shimmered, leaning against a nearby building, arms crossed over her chest. She wasn't human, I was sure of that, but I couldn't quite place what she was. Her face was too smooth, her eyes too cat-like, and her voice too purring to ever be human.
"I'm not human," I said, looking directly into her feline eyes.
She approached with a graceful gait and circled me like I might be lunch. She sniffed the air on either side of my shoulder. "You look human, smell human, if you aren't human, what are you?"
"Bored," I said giving her one of Holden's patented expressions. "What are you?"
"Hungry," she said with a wide grin. "Do you want to get lunch?"
I had no idea what to make of this person. I couldn’t tell if she was a threat or just curious. "Do you invite strangers to lunch often?"
Her shrug was the most graceful movement I had ever seen. She made me feel like a frumpy troll next to her smooth liquid motions. "I can already tell I'm going to like you. Human, or whatever are, not many people would have the balls to stare down the whole of Chicago's Abyss. You're fearless. I like that in a person."    
"Olivia," I said, holding out my hand to her.
"Femi." She took my hand in a surprisingly firm grasp. "You aren't human, are you? I can feel it in your skin." A pleased smile spread across her face.
"I told you I wasn't."
"People lie.” She released my hand. "You really do look like a human. Out with it already."
I smiled at her impatience. "I’m a guardian."
"Bullshit." She laughed. "I can recognize a pain in the ass, holier than thou guardian a mile away. I’m not fooled, try again."

From the start they just clicked. Femi is adventurous and always looking for trouble she can sink her teeth into. Olivia is more reserved but trouble finds her pretty easily. They both have big hearts and endless amounts of curiosity. Now I didn’t really know that going in so back to my process of creating her character.
After I answered those two questions about her then I start building her. Since I write fantasy I needed to decide what sort of creature/person she would be. Would she be supernatural or human? Would she be good or evil leaning? What did she do for a living? 

Referring back to my first two answers I could narrow this down. I needed her to be supernatural because that would make her a better friend to Olivia and ease her transformation into the Abyss. Also on that note, she needed not to completely toe the line on the good side. You see Olivia was up to her eyeballs in good, but her heart still loved someone who had a fair amount of evil in him. Femi needed to be the voice of reason. She needed to see both sides more clearly than either side saw themselves so she could provide Olivia with perspective. The last question of what she did for a living was answered by the fact that this was a supernatural creature who craved adventure. Making her a bounty hunter was a nature fit. Her job could be one adventure after another which suited her.

After I knew this about her I could start on the smaller details like what did her race say about her? What were her strengths and limitations? What did she look like? How did she rebel? How did she distinguish herself from everyone else?

Since I created her race after the goddess Sekhmet I was able (had to) create everything about these people. I researched the goddess and what she was known for. I took bits and pieces of that and made character traits for the race. After I felt like I knew her people, I focused on Femi and how she was different from everyone else.

Now the most important part of all of this was that I didn’t know everything about her when I started writing her. I knew enough about her that I had a voice for her in my head, but with every scene I write about her or any of my characters I learn something about them and why they are who they are. Sometimes it surprises me. Sometimes it makes me laugh. Sometimes they make me sad, but the important part of this is that they keep growing on the page and in my and the reader’s mind.

I am a firm believer that for my own writing process and I can plan things too much. So I try to plan just enough that I have direction, but not so much that I kill spontaneity.

So that’s it. That’s how I do it. I am suspicious that this is a long rambling post that told you literally nothing. Hopefully not though. Hopefully this made some sort of sense and helps someone out there.


Liz

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