As a writer I have seen and heard it all. Everything from the mundane stereotypes all the way to the awkward assumptions. As a reader, I have read it all. Just like in movies, in a book everything has been done before.
Boy gets girl, monster terrorizes town, ugly duckling gets respect… all the books are the same on a broken down level of understanding. There isn’t anything new left to do.
However, there is something new to create; characters push a story and drive it to the epic conclusion. Writers have two jobs: Create a plot line that people will want to follow and give birth to a character that people can be led by, fall in love with, root for.
It is our job as writers to ensure that our characters are much more than names given to specs of our imaginations. We have the ability to create life (or destroy it). We must do it well.
It’s More Than A Name
When I create a character, I don’t just make up a name and then put them in a story. My characters are real people. They begin as just a name, or just an idea for a name. Soon, they have an entire life, they went to school, they did drugs, they have a crush on a girl that doesn’t even know they exist. Whatever the case is, they have lived a full, enthralling life and I have been there to see every second of it.
The reader may not know this character until page four, where they are 39 years old and about to embark on some crazy journey. I, on the other hand, was there at their birth, I watched their first steps, pulled their first tooth, wiped a tear as they walked across the stage and received their diploma. I was proud of them when they got their first job and I know how much change is in their left front pocket. They become a real person to me, and I love them like they were my own children (or grandparent, whatever). It goes a lot deeper than that though. I don’t write stories. I just write words.
They Come to Life
My character has come to life, and like Geppetto was with Pinocchio, I am not in control of their life, I am just along for the ride. My characters tell me their stories, I merely write them down. It is their words, their actions, their facial expressions and emotions; I am simply the scribe. When they go through tough times I try to pull them through, I support them. It is me who rubs their backs when they cry and holds their hair when they vomit. I am not just the life breather for them; I am their God.
Now, you can stop. It isn’t some superiority complex. It’s just a fact. I know more about that character than you ever will. I know them inside and out and I don’t even choose too. It just happens. I design their face in my head, their clothes, and give them a name. That is it. Nothing more. And through some metaphysical, astrophysical, metamorphic manner the knowledge of this living, breathing person just occurs.
I Learn Who They Are
I learn them, I have a psychic understanding of them from conception to death. It’s not that I give this 2-D thing a name and a face. It is that when I do create characters, I am suddenly transported into their world as if I was there all along. They always have a story to tell me, and I listen. I listen eagerly and intently. I remember every detail about every nuance. When their story is done, I write it down for them.
My job is not to create a story some random reader will love. No. My job is to relay a tale so wondrous, so magical, that the reader falls in love (or falls in disgust) and develops feelings for that character on a level they didn’t think could ever happen through paper and ink.
The characters magic, through me, delivered to the reader and beyond. I don’t create characters for a story, I create the words of the story the characters give to me.