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A Writer On Writing: How Do You Create Your Characters?

"How do you make the people in your fiction (longer fiction especially) well-rounded, believable individuals that the reader might care about?'' asks Sally Jenkins.

In short stories it isnít always necessary to know all the details about a character, for example it may be enough to know that the heroine is a grandmother and not her exact age or her previous profession (if any). But when attempting to write something longer, facts like these become important so that the writer can concoct a suitable back story for the lady, so it may be useful to know in what decade she was a teenager, at what age she left full-time education and whether or not she became a working mother. The life which the grandmother lived before the novel opens will have a bearing on how she acts and reacts within the story Ė so both the author and the reader need to know what went before.

Some writers advocate filling in a questionnaire about each character, covering physical appearance, hobbies, education etc (a sample questionnaire can be found on Stewart Ferrisís website http://www.stewartferris.com/pages/Character_questionnaire.htm). This is a useful way of keeping track of facts such as eye colour and height (easy things to forget as you get deeper into the plot).

However, I find it very hard to just jot down a sentence or two about the big things such as a characterís personality, attitude to life and motivation. In order to get to know a protagonist I have to start writing scenes from his or her point of view. Itís only as I write that I realise what I donít know about a character and therefore what I need to put into their back story to make them act in a certain way in the present. This means I donít do much planning before I write because I have to write in order to create the characters.

Some writers cut pictures from magazines and use these as prompts for their characters. But this only covers their physical appearance Ė so Iím not sure it would help me.

Nicola Morgan advocates interviewing your main character (her list of suggested questions is here and they are pretty searching! http://helpineedapublisher.blogspot.com/2010/07/nailing-your-character.html ) Most of these I couldnít have answered when I initially decided on the people I needed in my story but now Iíve written a bit from each point of view Iím going to pretend Iím a chat show host and start asking questions.

What about you Ė how do you develop your characters?


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