Nov 18, 2011

On Writing: Characters, or the People in my Head

Yes, I drew that.

The most integral part of any story tends to be the characters in it. Whether fate acts upon them or they upon fate, it seems unlikely that a reader would truly connect to any story line without their presence. They are the links from the real to the imaginary, the pathway by which we come to understand the wealth and feelings that exist within a realm not entirely our own.

And yet, no one can seem to agree on exactly what they are.

What is a character to you?

I've heard that question answered a thousand different ways. I've frequently heard assertions that characters are no more than tools, cardboard cutouts to which a writer appends relatable features and emotions. I've heard many assertions that this is the only good way to think of a character, and that it is foolish to think of them as anything else.

I assert that those people are wrong.

Perhaps for some writers, characters as tools is the best way to go. But not for me. To cheapen my imaginings to such an extent would be an affront to my mind, and I'm certainly not one to hamper my own ability to create ideas. To me, characters give me the ability to explore the psyche of people I cannot possibly deconstruct in real life.

Are my psychological dissections always accurate? Of course not. But then you have to realize that there is no human being on this planet that is one and the same with any other, no matter how similar, so "accuracy" is terms of a person's exact psychological profile is a bit of a defunct idea, no?

But crafting a believable mind and personality is only one part of the reason I like to consider my characters something more. When it comes down to it, cardboard people can only produce a cardboard world, and I am not a writer of cardboard worlds. I am an interpreter of vast imagined places, from which I relay relevant and exciting information.

Nothing I ever write will be complete in the sense that it conveys an entire universe. Never. My writings are no more than particular bits and pieces that I have selected from a place of endless actions and relationships. What you will see of, say, The Bombardiers is the key parts of Xi, Sara, Ganth, and Norton's lives, but what about the rest? Do you honestly think I didn't walk through each year, each moment, each relationship? Sara's lost fiance exists in only the barest periphery of the story, but do you think I just gave him a name and left it at that?

Every universe in my head is perpetually expanding. Universes whose stories I haven't even drawn from yet are still rapidly forming in my head right now. I've got fragments of the Stolen universe swirling around in my head at the exact moment I'm writing this. But you don't know what that is, do you?

Well, of course not. I haven't you told about that universe. And you won't know until I do. But I assure you that when I do, and I will, mind you, I will introduce to characters who are wholly representative of people, whose thoughts and feelings and relationships could be just as real as any living person's.

But why put all that effort into it, you ask?

Well, see, that's the thing. I'm not. This is how my mind naturally works. I talk extensively about this in my previous On Writing post, The Omnipresent Muse. Do you really think I sit here all day in my chair carefully working out each little quirk and each little tone and each little freckle just to make my characters seem like real people?

No, I don't. Because that would be silly and pointless.

They just are. They're just there. And since they are already there, prepackaged not as blank cardboard cutouts onto which I draw a few defining features but as living, breathing people who exist in a world of my mind's imagination that could very well replace our own as the one which actually exists, please explain to me why on Earth I would utilize them as anything else?

But, but to each his own. Some writers don't have entire universes taking residence in their minds, and I know this quite well. My point is not to claim any writer inadequate, merely to expand the horizons of the concept of the "character."

So I should get on with that, yeah?

Anyway, point is: characters are created differently by each writer. There is no standard method, no standard traits they must have or not have, no standard mental profile. Just as every person is different, so is the creation of every character. I preach for not a standard but the lack of one. I cringe when I see new writers asking how create characters and other responding with the "normal" answers.

There is no normal, people. Not in writing. Not in people. Not on Earth. Nowhere. So please, please, please don't try to fit your methods of imagination and writing into some sort of "normal process." When it comes to being a writer, I feel that one of the worst things to do is to limit the way you create.

So don't do it, pretty please?

You're characters are your own, whether you want to make them as cardboard cutouts, mannequins, paper children, actors in cosplay, or living people [or the living dead (and I suppose animals and plants count too; let me know how that works for you?)].

If you still haven't caught my drift: Create characters your own way. Only you can know how you best create characters. And whatever you do, don't let anyone convince you otherwise.

Anyway, I'm interested to know: How do you personally create characters? 

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