The Alchemy of Writing: Character Creation

Today, I’m going to be talking about a topic that may well be one of my favorite parts of the writing process: character creation. For me, sitting down and working out who my character is, what their personality is like, what the look like… these are all things that I absolutely love.

Part of this, I think, stems from the fact that I’m a player of pen-and-paper RPGs (role playing games). It’s not uncommon for me to spend upwards of twelve hours coming up with a character for a new game. A lot of people approach this from a standpoint of starting with the numbers (choosing a class, rolling stats, assigning skill points, etc). I, however, tend to think of the type of character I want to play and start with the background first.

The shortest character bio I’ve created for a game was about a page with the average being two or three. I’ve even gone and created backgrounds for friends and associates of characters before. I might be a little obsessive at times.

“So, how does this apply to writing?” you might be asking yourself.

Well, the thing is, a really good game should be like an interactive book or movie. Although there’s no need for stats for a character in a book, there are similar things to keep in mind: What does your character do? What kind of skills does he or she have? Do they have any fighting styles or skill with weapons?

And like a good RPG character, you’ll want to establish the character’s personality, their beliefs, and their appearance in your mind before you sit down to write them. For my new series, I’ve put together a series of ‘character sheets’ for the major players. In putting together these sheets, I’ve given myself a chance to think about important aspects of their personality and other factors that might come into play during the course of the novel.

As an example, I’ll share the sheet I made up for Detective Ava Fitzgerald who is set to be a major player in the new series I’m working on.

 

Name:                          Ava Fitzgerald

Nickname(s):            Fitz, The Pitbull, Firecracker, Ginger

Age:                              27

Height:                        5’8”

Physique:                   Slender and athletic

Hair:                            Red

Eyes:                           Green

Occupation:             Seattle PD Homicide detective

Birthplace:               Phoenix, AZ

Residence:               Belltown district of Seattle

Marital Status:       Single

Children:                  None

Siblings:                    None

Other Relatives:    Scott Fitzgerald, Father, retired Phoenix PD – Marie Fitzgerald, Mother, Teacher

Friends:                    Joseph Ramirez, Shawna Jacobs, Kyle Andrews, David Reichert

 

  • What is his/her favorite food?

Sushi, specifically eel rolls and squid sashimi

  • What is his/her favorite movie?

Privately: The Princess Bride and The Last Unicorn

What she’ll admit to others: Die Hard

  • What is his/her favorite book?

The Kay Scarpetta series

  • Has he/she served in the military?

No

  • What is his/her relationship with family like?

Scott was thrilled when Ava went to the police academy, but the decision caused some strife in her relationship with her mother who hated worrying about her husband every night and didn’t want that sort of life for her daughter.

  • Does he/she have any religious belief/affiliation?

Nominally, she’s Christian, but she doesn’t attend church regularly

  • Does he/she cook?

Ava is actually a very good cook, but she doesn’t indulge that passion often

  • Does he/she know how to fight?

Her father insisted on her having self-defense training at an early age and studied both karate and tae kwan do

  • Does he/she have any pets?

Ava has a rescued pit bull named Baby

  • Does he/she have any allergies?

Ava takes medication to deal with hay fever during the spring and summer

  • Does he/she prefer books or movies?

No preference, she enjoys both and frequently listened to audio books during late night patrols.

  • What kind of car does he/she drive?

Kawasaki KLR 650 On-Off Road motorcycle

This photo belongs to MCNews.au

 

Actor/Model:              Bryce Dallas Howard

 

As you can see, the character sheet gives me broad strokes information that allows me to establish her personality. The fact that she prefers a on/off road motorcycle to having a car could infer a bit of a thrillseeker aspect to her personality. That she claims Die Hard as her favorite movie to others, but has a secret soft-spot for movies like The Princess Bride and The Last Unicorn reminds me that she’s still young and has a bit of a tender heart behind the tough exterior… a foundation further backed up by her possession of a rescue pit bull she named ‘Baby’.

I also like to ‘cast’ actors/models for the major characters as it allows me to visualize them as I’m writing about them and their situations.

As with other aspects of my writing process, it’s kind of unconventional, but I find it to be extremely useful and also a lot of fun.

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