I love creating characters. This part of creative writing is one of my favorite activities, along with creating plot, and then creating the outline.
Whenever I begin a story, I usually have a visual of my main character and a slight idea of their nemesis or the counter character if a romance. Generally, I see their goal and wound or flaw that drives the goal, and this goal becomes the driving force for the rest of the story’s development, both in plot and characterization.
Real relationships develop over time but in creating characters, I don’t have that kind of time. I need to learn about them deeply and quickly. So, I’ve learned to create character journals.
Starting with the main character, I write pages that are that character’s diary pages. They’re simply recording on paper anything and everything they want to tell me. I don’t care about what the character looks like, what their favorite ice cream flavor is, what they like to read, and other superficial characteristics. Instead, I want to know if they were bullied, how they get along with others, what is their deep dark secret that they would be horrified if others know. I want to know how they developed, emotionally. What drives them to despair, what frustrates them, what gives them profound pleasure.
In the writing these pages, their voice appears before I’m at the end of the first page, especially in tone and sentence structure. One may use flowery language, another speaks in short, choppy sentences, while another swears in every sentence.
I get to know these characters intimately, as if they are living with me. Well, actually, they are: in my head.
Early in my novel writing career, I discovered this method of creating characters for a romance I was writing. In addition, I discovered this method by accident.
Because I was a journal writer myself, I thought, why not let my main characters write in their journals?
On this particular day, when both my hero and heroine had exhausted their thoughts on paper, each providing me with about four pages of single-spaced text, I had my daughter, who was in high school and good with English, read their journals.
When she was finished reading, she said, “Who wrote these, Mom?”
I replied, “I did.”
“No, who wrote these?”
“No,” she said. This time she spoke slowly, enunciating each word. “Who. Wrote. These?”
I replied in like tone and enunciation. “I. Did.”
Exasperated, she said, “No, these were written by two different people.”
My characters were real.