Ding! Character’s done.

I’d like to say, dear readers, I wish you were all here so I could share some of this delicious hot apple cider I’ve mixed with Maker’s Mark, but I’m also a terribly selfish person and I don’t think Jason would approve of me having a ton of strangers in his house for no reason other than sharing my booze. I’m making today’s post right at the start of today, as it’s a most auspicious occasion. I get to meet Jason’s new girlfriend, which means it’s my duty as Jason’s best friend (or at least as one of the people who holds such status) to pass righteous, evil judgment on her!

My nefarious ways aren’t the focus of today’s post, however.

Day Fifty-One – Determining when a character is ready to use

Characters usually just happen for me, which is a blessing and a curse wrapped into one neat, thought-bubble-wrapped hunk of imagination ore. At its heart usually rests a complete and fully-realized character, but the level of digging and the volume of high explosives needed to unearth each such character varies every single stinking time. It keeps me on my toes, that’s for certain. How do I determine when I’ve reached a point a character is ready for use? And what happens if I discover a character I’m working on isn’t quite what I need for my current project?

Those are easy questions to ask with difficult answers.

A lot of characters for Joshua Harkin and the Wicked Nightmare King have origins as far back as high school writing projects (that never saw the light of day, I should point out; for shame). A lot of them ended up stashed away for later projects, whether I realized that or not, where they hibernated in the back of my mind and gradually gained detail with each time I recalled them.

My method, I’ve found, seems to stray from the standard in that I don’t typically form the character’s appearance first. Personalities seem to happen naturally, and in the form of a potential character presenting himself or herself. If that sounds a touch crazy, it’s just the natural creative process talking. The nice men who loaned me a special white coat and sent me to the happy hotel can confirm this to be true (haw haw). The real conundrum is determining if a character is really story-ready (or novel-ready) or not. That part takes a bit longer to figure out, however. Especially if the character in question happens later on in a story or novel, because I still can’t seem to break my habit of writing things from start to finish. Once I reach the point where the character(s) in question are introduced, I see how they handle in a scene. Do they feel three-dimensional or flat? Do they stand out compared to other characters or blend in like set pieces that are there to be acted upon?

And then I make adjustments to bits and pieces like speech patterns and mannerisms. Little quirks can really make the difference when working to make a memorable character who can stand on their own, or at least it has worked pretty well for me so far.

Once a character undergoes additional scene-tests, I determine if they feel right in the overall piece or not, and adjust accordingly. Fun fact: Tymnir and Nymsa of Joshua Harkin and the Wicked Nightmare King nearly ended up being part of a trio of characters. The third character was scrapped, and she later evolved into a major player (and villain of sorts, actually) in my latest novel-project. In Joshua Harkin and the Wicked Nightmare King, she threw off the balance I’d set up for Nymsa and Tymnir, which proved to be quite a headache. I set the character aside and had a polite talk with her about how she’s not quite ready yet, and then I resumed work on the previously mentioned novel with the absurdly long name (I do rather like it, though, or I’d not have used it for its official name).

Maybe there’s a level of crazy at work here, or maybe I just have a lot of luck with letting characters pop into existence from a blend of people I know and people I wish I knew, but getting them to the point I can use them always takes different lengths of time. It’s a big point of frustration, but when I finally turn the imaginary hunk of ore I started with into a refined, highly polished gem…Well, let’s just say it’s one hell of an enjoyable victory.

Especially because I am positively awful at naming characters, and so when their names just offer themselves up it’s such a huge relief. Fellow writers, how do yinz all come up with characters? How do you mold and form them for use in your stories? Or are they, like they often are for me, the foundation by which your stories are built?

3 thoughts on “Ding! Character’s done.

  1. The more blog posts I read by other writers, the more I realize how close the extreme edge of pantsing I reside. I don’t give a thought to characters until they fall out of my fingertips and onto the page. They are as much a surprise to me as they will be to my eventual readers. For my current WiP, all I had going in was three words, which ended up being the first three words of the story. 80K words later, it’s a would-be novel with quite a few characters.

    • One of my favorite things about being a writer is knowing there are so many different ways to approach the same thing. There may be only so many stories to tell and retell, but there’s certainly a shit-ton of different approaches to telling them. I think you may have inadvertently sparked a topic for one of my next, rambling blog posts, sir. Just so you know you’re to blame.

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