Before I get into anything, character creation is a personal process not everything I do will work for you. That being said let’s talk.
When I first start creating characters there are two paths I follow: (1) Story Idea, character description, name; or (2) Name, character description, idea. Now I know these sound similar but I have more success with one compared to the other. The path I actually prefer is path 2, the characters feel more organic when they basically create their own story and experience but it does require a lot of faith in your writing and creative skills to come up with a coherent story starting just from a name. The path I take also depends on what has inspired me (I hate the word inspired by the way, my mind always seems to be on, so it never quite covers what happens when an idea hits me); let’s say I have a killer idea that I flesh out with certain characters that fit a role, I take path 1 on the other hand let’s say I’m out shopping and they announce a name over the PA system, I’m struck with how impressive it sounds and I jot it down followed by what I think he or she looks like and their back story that is the basic idea of path 2.
Let’s get detailed, I realize that it might be confusing boiled down so much.
Path 1 (with examples):
~So Path 1 starts with a story idea: A little girl goes to visit grandma and must travel through a rough part of town to get to her. A Little Red Riding Hood retelling.
~So what do I need character wise: Little Red, Grandma, Mother, Big Bad Wolf, Wood Cutter
~Next up is descriptions (I’m only going to do Red Riding Hood): Little Red needs to be young, strong willed, sassy, street wise, and kind. So let’s say she’s 15-17, Latina, thick black hair, dark brown eyes that sparkle with mischief and joy, manicured nails, average height, and average weight. She wears tight blue jeans, high tops, bright colored crop top, gold earrings and necklace; several chunky bracelets, and carries a knock-off purse that she loves dearly.
~What’s her name? Well I like Little Red, but it’s at this point I go to baby name websites and look up Spanish names and pick one I like or one that fits her. But let’s stick with Little Red, why is she called that? Her beloved purse is red, or her favorite hoodie is red, her high tops are red. You can pick almost any reason. Maybe all through middle school her hair was a shocking red color and the name just stuck. But you have to have a reason for nicknames, if you can’t say why someone is called Little Red then perhaps you need to work on your character’s back story more. Now repeat for all other characters you need, this is path 1.
Path 2 (with examples):
~So path 2 starts with a name: Bruce Johnson
~Who is Bruce Johnson? A handy man with no exact trade, on call day and night. You need him, he’ll be there.
~What does he look like: Tall, burly, with thick brown hair, gray-green eyes, calloused hands, and 5 o’clock shadow. He wears jeans, t-shirts, and work boots, his belt is a size too big, and a hammer is often through the hammer loop.
~How old is he? 35, but its been a rough 35 years on Earth.
~What is his life like? He was born to a poor family and grew up fighting for everything he needed and wanted, in high school he caught a break with football, he was good and got a scholarship for it. He played all through college while picking up classes on business, nursing, marketing, and art but not finding anything he was interested. He thought he could go pro, but a drunk driver took all that away in his senior year when they jumped the curb and shattered his leg; he was benched, finished out his year and moved on. After college he struggled for work, finally landing a job in a factory where he met his future wife. They were happy, dated for a year, saved for a year, then wed, their honeymoon was nothing special, spent in a near by city at a cheap hotel but that was ok for them because they had each other. For five years they were happy, she was pregnant with twins and he was getting a promotion. But then she lost the twins, her depression was all consuming, he spent more time at work trying to avoid his own grief and not noticing her suffering. After a late night he came home and found her sleeping on the couch. At first he didn’t think anything of it but then he realized she wasn’t breathing, panicking he called 911 but it was too late. He buried her beside his lost children, quit his job, and began drinking. After a few DUIs and a car crash he got help, been sober for a few years now. Got a job as a handy man that included a free basement apartment, so life is looking up. But then the cops are at his door, they demand answers to questions that don’t make sense. Who is Hanna Harman? Why is her death being pinned on him? What happens when all evidence points to him but he has no idea who she is or what happened? How is this fair? Why is no one listening to his answers?
~Idea: A young woman of the night is found murdered and all evidence points to a man that denies knowing her. An up-and-coming lawyer takes his case but it becomes clear that the cops aren’t interested in justice, they want something to stay buried at the expense of a former drunk trying to turn his life around. Who is out to get her client, what happened to the woman, and how can she find the real killer when every cop in the city is out to stop her?
So those are the two paths I take, can you tell which I prefer? Character creation is not a science, it’s an art. It’s an art that takes practice, patience, and faith. Everyone creates characters differently but they need to feel real, they need flaws, history, names, personality. You need to make people not hallow shells. Do research, take your time, and remember practice makes as close to perfect as writing can get.
Unedited, so beware of that