When you write, the characters you create are born from the pieces of your soul. They carry your dark sides, your hopes, the people you wish you could be. You live vicariously through them. You become attached to them. And then you miss them when you’re away.
Lately I’ve been missing my Gaelyn. He’s the fictional man I created over 15 years ago for my WIP “Silver Sun”. He’s my longest ongoing relationship to date, haha. He has long waist length platinum blond hair (worn this way to honor his mother’s memory), grey/blue eyes, square-cut rimless glasses, sharp cheeks bones, thin lips, a thinly muscled physique, tall frame and a very sharp tongue. He’s intelligent, scholarly, and has a judgmental manner. He has little patience for dramatic people or liars. He likes children and eventually wants to be a pediatrician. He’s also a foreigner with a shady past and no family to speak of besides his fun-loving adoptive Scottish dad named Clancy.
In a way, it was Gaelyn who started me on this serious writing journey. He showed up one day and had the answers to all my problems so he became the man to which I measure all my other men against. We’ve toiled and journeyed over the years together. His story has been erased and rewritten many times (stupid computers) but he’s managed to stay true to the core of himself. He’s even influenced several other versions of himself in other stories. Little Gaelyn clone babies. Awwww….
I think it’s a truly special experience for any writer that can look back on a character and see them as a real person. Not just words on a page but a memory, a picture, a friend. To call them up and talk through problems like you would any real life friend. It would be nice to be able to say we can do that for EVERY character we create. They’re all part of us after all. But there are some characters that we feel connected to more than others, whether it be because they were our “first” or because we’ve placed some much effort and hope into them.
For me, with Gaelyn, I think he’s the kind of person that if he were flesh and blood, I would want him to be proud of me. He’s so intelligent and sure of himself (and so hard to get to open up!) that I know I would work hard to get him to be my friend. I’m sure that at first I would be terrified though, haha. He’s pretty sharp-tongued and scary.
Gaelyn is my hero and he saved me and I think that’s the best I can do as a writer for now. Until I start writing full roughs and editing them out for beta readers, I won’t know if I’m any good at characterization. It is my most favorite thing about writing though. I would say that in most of my stories, the plot is character driven.
The process of finding the perfect person is different every time. Culling through the millions of possibilities is as daunting as formatting DNA. Sometimes I’ll have a purpose that needs to be filled in the story and I’ll see a flash of curly hair or a sultry smile and everything blooms from there. Often I take quirks from real people I know and fit them in to my half-baked ideas. Sometimes it’ll be a name that comes to me and won’t leave my brain and I reverse the process, fitting a name to a body. Or sometimes I’ll go onto a baby name website and browse the names until one leaps out at me. (I LOVE baby name sites for inspiration!) Pinterest has also become a great source of character inspiration.
It comes from anywhere really. I love writing characters and then plopping them into a story. It’s probably why I have so many unfinished ones. Some are so important that they DEMAND to be written. Literally driving me insane until I give them at least a basic novel structure to live in. All writing flow stops for me when this happens and I cannot write another word of my current novel until I flesh out a rough outline. Seriously frustrating when your fictional characters rule your life, right? Stranger than fiction.
One such instance was my latest distraction in which I saw a pretty vapid blonde girl get mauled by a demon at a school dance and her arm gets crushed. The demons then gave her a robotic arm. Well well, Lexi, what will you do next? I don’t think she’s entirely okay with me doing permanent harm to her beautiful dancer body but I think she’ll forgive me once she realizes how important it was.
Another dramatic entrance into my consciousness was a dark-haired guy in a trench coat walking down a random street and a tattoo suddenly burns into his skin in the shape of a map with longitude and latitude coordinates. This was only made more dramatic by the fact that a cute Asian girl happened to be walking the same street and got the same exact tattoo. All this started from a tattoo I saw on pinterest. I know, I know. DAMN I’m good! I love my brain 😀
Characters are so easy to create! I love people and thanks to starting this blog, I’ve learned not to make them perfect. Well, Gaelyn taught me that in part too. Mr. wish-fulfillment. Flaws make them more human and interesting. Torture them and then reward them. Scar them outside, inside, on their hearts, on their skin. Make your readers care about them or hate them or get so disgusted they throw the book at the wall (I’ve done this twice in my life time. Thank you Rowling and Pratchett.)
I know that some writers struggle with characterization and yet plot structure comes naturally to them (I envy you writers). Just remember these two things:
- Inspiration can come from ANYWHERE so pay attention. (Keep a blank notebook handy or get a note-taking app for your phone)
- You CAN change them to suit your needs.
Gaelyn was a wimpy timid scholar at the beginning of this journey with me. Now he’s a cynical and pedantic man with a heart of gold, once you get past the thorns. It took 15 years. HOPEFULLY your writing endeavors won’t need to take quite so long to flesh out. The most important thing is to have fun with it!
Good luck y’all!