Hi Jim,

I was wondering if you talk a little bit about how you create characters for your book. I’ve got an awesome idea for a story, but I’m having a hard time creating characters to go along with it. Do you have any advice?

Thanks,
Kris


Hello Kris,

In my personal opinion, you’re doing this backward. You’ve got a great story, but no characters. I don’t believe that’s the correct way of going about this. I’m sure that many of my readers will disagree with me on this one, but I think that the best way write a story is to create a set of characters first, then create the story around them.

For me, I have a library of characters written out that I have not yet used. Actually, many of the characters for some of my more recent books have come from that library. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes you have to create characters for specific plot devices in the story, but largely, it may be better for your main characters to be an independent creation.

I have characters that are elves, half-elves, dragonkin (half-dragons), Dragons that have the ability to appear in human form, dwarves, modern humans, medieval and prehistoric humans, fantasy humans, humans from other planets that evolved differently from ones on this planet, and several different vaguely-written backstories. They are all just anxiously awaiting their chance to take center stage.

When the time comes and I come up with a new story, I go back to that library and pick out the characters that I think best fit the story. Then I adapt their backstory to the world rules I established and go from there.

Think about it for a second. In life, do you think people are pre-written for an experience or do they simply adapt as they are put through it? There’s no wrong answer here, I just tend to believe the latter.

So I would say that the best thing for you to do would be to put the idea for your story on the back burner and just think about interesting people that you know in your life. Think about stories that have peaked your interest in the past and create characters based on those. Create their backstories, their races, and their appearances. Once you have around 10+ characters, think about the story you want to write. Then go back and pick out 2-3 characters that you think would fit.

Take a blank word document and fill in the following;

What’s this character’s name?

What’s their gender?

What’s their race/species?

Where do they come from?

Describe their physical appearance.

Describe their personality.

Describe their backstory.

Both the plot and the story can be adapted so that they suit each other as you go through, so don’t worry about that.

So that’s generally how I do things, but let’s open this up to my readers and keep the conversation going. I’d love to hear about how other people create characters for their stories. Do they write the story first and then the characters? Is it the other way around? Do you just write the characters as you’re writing the story?

Let me know in the comments!



Readers,

Do you have a question about writing, publishing, my stories, etc? Please feel free to post a comment or email me.

jimthewritingwizard@gmail.com

I’ll use those comments to select my next blog post.

I have been writing for several years, have 4 published works, experience with publishing and independent work, so I can hopefully be of assistance.

Please note, I only do one of these a day and will do my best to respond to everyone, but it may take some time.

Also, feel free to check out my works of Fantasy and Historical Fiction, Available on Amazon and where ever books are sold. See the link below:

http://www.amazon.com/James-Harrington/e/B00P7FBXTU

Note:
If you have read my books, PLEASE log into Amazon and post a review. I really love to hear everyone’s thoughts and constructive criticisms. Reviews help get my book attention and word of mouth is everything in this business!

Thanks friends!

Catch you on the flip side!

-Jim

3 Comments on “Characters First, Stories Second.

  1. Either / or.

    I would just say, keep in mind the story begins when the character (usually the main character) is shaken out of their comfort zone. As one author said, chase them up a tree and throw rocks at them. Determining who, which person, or which type of “person” would be best shaken to set the plot in motion should not be that hard to determine.

    I would think with pre-drawn characters or working from scratch, it will involve some serious thought to decide which one is the right one to be chased up this particular tree. Maybe all the more important to find the right one if the writer already has an idea of how they want the story to turn out.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. When writing, I find that improvisation works for me and is quite fun. I only imagine scratches of characters and let them tell me the story. It’s like watching a movie… you don’t know what will happen and who these characters truly are, but given the time you find out as they divulge their personality traits and fascinating backstory.
    I actually tried to force out their backstories at some point… and I came up with a blank. The best thing I could come up with was a scene from a girl’s childhood, back when her parents were still alive and she was learning to cook with her mother. Lame. Artificially creating characters leaves me with writer’s block, so my way of going around it is to go with the flow.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I usually come up with the situation (mad scientist designs a new superweapon and is going to steal the parts, for example), and then see how the characters can be drawn into that and how what they do affects the story, and in turn how the story affects them. I will have a theme in mind (learning to work together) but how that comes about happens naturally. Sometimes the outcome I wanted doesn’t make sense and I have to work with what I have. If it’s something important to later ideas I look to see if there’s an opening to get close enough (for government work at least :D).

    I also have character ideas in the back of my mind that hopefully can fit into a situation, even if the specific events are altered by this character. If it’s an established character please do not alter the character to fit the story. That bugs me as a fan and a critic. If it’s a character we’ve never seen or heard of do what you need to, or create a new character if old ones won’t take the story where you want. Different personalities and their relationship to each other can have a minor or major impact so think about that too.

    Like

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