Or “How I unintentionally transformed a villain whose sole purpose was to act as a plot device to something I think turned out pretty cool.”
Sometimes, and by sometimes I mean more often than I probably should, I create characters out of need to move the plot forward. Don’t give me that side-eyes look, now, because I’m sure it’s not an even remotely uncommon practice. I’m also, after a bit of fun personal experience, certain it can result in some pretty fun ideas.
Meet General Whyte. General Whyte started off as a stock character of sorts who would get sent in to stir things up and cause Joshua some additional grief. He was a reanimated skull, kept safe by a large, blood-thirsty ogre. When I came up with his name and description, I did so with the understanding he would be marched off to die at some point or another.
And then some scenes happened that favored some of General Whyte’s trickery. Ideas popped into existence from there.
In short (I know, too late for that), General Whyte became my own variation on the age-old Bogeyman. My friend Jason pointed out that this character seems a bit like a Lich.
General Whyte, and Bogeymen in general in the world of Joshua’s Nightmares, are anchored to life by a physical object. In General Whyte’s case, that object is his skull. They move freely between nightmares, but can also find their way into people who harbor ill will towards others, those who are sickly, and people under great deals of duress. Once the Bogeyman takes hold of a body, it stashes the body’s former owner’s soul away to snack on later. In same cases, the Bogeyman will grow bored enough and just discard the soul so it’s stuck wandering aimlessly.
Bogeymen gradually developed the ability to reach out and create elaborate illusions, such as creeping miasmas to shadows, out of necessity for self-preservation. The Bogeyman can safely terrorize its quarry without fear of being struck down by a sword, a well-placed blow with a fist, or the well-aimed flashlights. If the Bogeyman’s physical anchor were to be destroyed, so would the Bogeyman.
And all of that grew from what was supposed to be a throw-away character of sorts. Credit to my friend Lindsey, who changed the Bogeyman from either eating souls or throwing them out to a creepy mix of the two. What sorts of experiences have any of you other writerly, or otherwise creative, folks had with characters who seemed to grow into much more than you’d initially plotted?
I confess to building characters to move the plot forward. As it turns out, I’m building the cast for a longish short story (about 20,000 words). As I visualize each scene, I find myself adding to the cast. If they are minor characters, I give them the characteristics I think they will need.
Once I get into the actual scene construction, they might need more than the one or two characteristics and simple motive that I give them.
The major characters are a whole different proposition. When I cast them, I generally know what I want them to do in the story. But…the reasons for doing what they need to do requires a lot more thinking. I move to combing through Myers Briggs to find the type, so they will be consistent and a recognizable type. From there, I add in specific special gifts and flaws, and discover why they do what they do.
The had part for me is to construct the character arc in a believable sequence, so the heroine (and her love interest), with the flaws hampering her in part 2, leading to complete disaster in part 3, so she can learn her lessons and save the world in part 4.
(Sorry for writing on and on and on)
No apologies needed. What an absolutely fantastic comment. That’s a much more methodical approach than I have, and it sounds brilliant.
I think one of the greatest joys of writing is the chance it affords to create characters, both major and minor, of varying depths.
Thanks for such a thoughtful comment!