Last week I wrote about naming my novel, ‘In Ten Thousand Years’. This week I’m going to describe how I create the characters that will inhabit it.
There are university courses, libraries and innumerable online resources that examine the process of character creation. I’ve looked at a fraction of a fraction of all that information. And even that tiny portion has taught me something important, characters matter. I know, shocker.
Without characters the reader has no one to care about. No one to empathise with. No one to hate. No one to make laugh or cry with. No one through whose eyes we can see the world and experience its vicissitudes. This means the characters have to do a lot of heavy lifting. Get the characters wrong, and by wrong, I mean characters that fail to feel real, then plot and theme are lost.
My novel, is all about the plot. I like the plot. It popped into my head almost fully formed and I really want people to care about the plot. So, I need characters that’ll grab the reader and make them want to turn the page.
The characters in this have taken me a bit longer to dream up. I wrote a few thousand words. These words were the opening scene and a scene that happens later on in the story. In doing so I discovered traits I wouldn’t have otherwise managed.
Some writers will invent and develop their characters before they even think about a first draft. While this approach doesn’t appeal to me, it highlights the importance of having fully realised characters from the beginning. And by fully realised I mean, name, appearance, age, gender, origin, family, species (if writing sci-fi or fantasy), sexuality, right or left handed, habits, idiosyncrasies, foibles, culture and a thousand other details that guide the writer and help convince the reader that this person is real, this person is behaving in a believable manner, this person’s choices reflect all that we know about the character, this person’s fate matters.
A biography of each character is vital. I dislike doing this because it’s a chore. Also, what if the plot requires something that I’ve already stipulated the character could not or would not do? You have three choices, change the character i.e. rewrite the character from the beginning. Change the plot i.e. rewrite the plot from the beginning. Or just hope your character has been so poorly rendered that the reader won’t care or notice the inconsistency. I get a little paranoid about giving the characters so much detail that I paint myself into a corner, but with proper planning, of both character and plot, this possibility will be greatly reduced. No matter how prepared the writer is, there is no protection from a sudden insight that changes everything.
I have two main characters and at the time of writing this, only one other minor character.
My protagonist is called Lord Ithell and antagonist, Series Three. When naming non-human characters, I use one of the several online name generators. I can usually find a name that fits within the first 100 suggestions. Thus, Ithell. Series Three was easy, it describes what it is. That took a lot of pressure off. The third character is called Auttarc. Again, that name is taken from a name generator. When using invented names one can go down the Tolkien route of inventing languages and creating names that fit and have history. Most mortals however just make them up, but they do at least try to have some kind of consistency.
These names are enough for now. The next task will be plotting, which will necessarily lead to more characters.