Do You Know Your Characters

I have been writing along for a while, creating some new characters who have names, and for some, personalities.  I don’t have a file of characters ready to drop into my story as needed.  It’s something I am considering doing, at least with names because that’s the hardest part for me, but currently I just go with it.

I have to admit, that actually works fairly well for me.  Since I don’t outline my story ahead of time, I get all kinds of twists and turns in the middle of the story.  Yes I know where the story is starting and where the ending is going to be.  I have a general idea of what will happen in the middle but I leave it at that because, well my characters do things I didn’t forsee which so far has made the story better, or at the very least more interesting.

But this raises the question of if I actually know my characters before I start writing.  Truth be told, not really.  I start with a name, race, a few details and then let them tell me who they are.  Some would say that’s stupid because how can you put obstacles in your characters paths if you don’t know their fears, desires, needs, etc.  Well sorry but if I had tried to do that with some of my characters I would have been shoehorning them into the story and it would be very forced.  I think the way I do it makes them more real.

For instance my first book attempt was built on characters from the role-playing group I DM’d.  The story was all me but the characters were all them.  Some of those were more vivid than others because of how they were played in the game.  But it wasn’t until I started writing about them that I realized a few things.  I have one set of brothers where one of them is bitter and distrustful.  He’s an ass let me tell you and I hated that character so much when we played.  It made for a great game and he made that first book attempt awesome to write.  Partway through I had the other brother talking to another character.  They are both elves from the same area.  I discovered that my elves have a ritual they perform when they come of age as adults.  And the reason the one elf is so distrustful is that his mother married a human who killed her so he doesn’t want to return for this ritual.

When I figured that out I was seriously shocked.  It made him not seem like such a jerk anymore.  I still write him as an ass to a lot of people but I understand why now.

That of course got me thinking about who really knows all about their characters before they write.  I can’t imagine that every writer knows everything.  Discovery is great.  I love reading things about characters I would never have guessed and writing them the same way is a blast.  So I don’t think I’ll worry too much about knowing every little detail about my characters.  They will tell me what they want me to know when they want me to know it.

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About awritersprocess
I have been a writer longer than I can remember. It started with poems in grade school and evolved into the manuscripts, articles, and blogs that I currently write for. My desire to become an editor came later in life but I am no less passionate about that as I am about writing. I have a BA in English (with a minor in History) and have even taken a proofreading class through Editorial Freelancers Association. I am a writer for hire.

3 Responses to Do You Know Your Characters

  1. When I wrote my first novel, it got to the point I couldn’t wait to get up every morning to see what my characters had been up to overnight.

    Dr. Tom Bibey, author, “The Mandolin Case”

  2. Chris G. says:

    It is a curious thing, to watch how characters develop before our own eyes – not just those of our readers’. These situations we put to them, it’s not just “entertainment value” for the readers…these changing, sifting challenges, situations, etc. reveal the characters in our own minds, flesh out their personalities, and let them breathe through us. I love that sensation dearly…

  3. never thought of that b4

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