Character Development

When I sit down to create a main character for a piece of work, I first determine whether or not the narrative requires a main character.  If it is a fragmented narrative, like Last Exit to Brooklyn or I, Robot, it may not need a main character for the story’s continuity, as readers can pick up on even minor characters’ identifiable traits.  Stories like I, Robot or World War Z can use the trick of a narrator collecting stories within the book’s universe, but since the manga I wrote has a clear main character, I won’t cover those methods any further.  Once I have an idea, I bring the characters I’d like to see interact within my idea into being name-first.  I start from a name because it’s a great way to take inspiration in an everyday situation; we all use names every day, we read them, hear them, and speak them, so when you’re thinking about it, several names will strike your fancy throughout the course of the day and get you thinking.  Another reason I start with names is because I mentally ascribe certain personalities and types of people to certain names, so when I come across an interesting name, it’s not a huge leap to invent an interesting character.

So, when you have a name, you should look at characters that you have loved, hated, and otherwise noticed in various forms of art: great books, film, paintings, and even statues.  Humans have a tendency to project humanity and its values on everything they see, so characters pop out of our surroundings.  Over time, we can even find our cars or computers have become like our old friends.  Since it’s not so hard to find an abundance of characters, look for those that mean the most to you, as characters that stood out to you in the past did so for a reason.  This was likely an intentional move on the part of the artist, but I purport that the art is not in the making of lovable characters, but the weaving of the narrative artifice that allows the characters to seem alive, as if they were created in the reader’s mind and were their own friends or enemies.  I study the works that I love, and I discover why they felt real and important to me, and with every character I write, I come closer to creating the image I have in my mind.

Comments

  1. I am not much of a writer myself, or one at all. I never considered that authors would start with the name of a character and develop the idea from there. I never think of names as having much importance, but this makes me see that they can be indicative of many traits to the creative mind. When reading I take names for granted, that will certainly change.

  2. smalapati says:

    It’s really interesting to me that you start with a character name. Do you have a vague idea of the character you need, or do you really just pick a name and go from there? It seems like you would need a different sort of protagonist for different stories, and if you’re basing the name off the personalities it connotates for you, you’d have to know about the person the story needs. I find this particularly true if your story is more character-driven than universe-driven… although the universe will also affect the name you can give your character.

    I do a lot of creative writing, but I usually start with an idea and go from there. When I have an idea (like “he’s a rich kid from Louisiana” or “she’s a tomboy”), then I’ll pick the name (Cabell, because it’s an old Southern name, or Rosetta, because, perhaps, she dislikes her feminine name).