Stringing Words Together
by Rachel Kehrli
The Quick and Dirty Way to Make a Character, or, My Type of Character Generation.
This column is primarily about finding a main character for your story. The way I figure, there are basically two ways of finding a main character or three, if you count “I don’t really have one”. The first is generally what happens to me. The character finds me first, and then the story comes out while I think about the character. The other way about it is the opposite, in that you think of a story, and then come up with a character to go along with the story. Personally, I prefer the first method, but that’s because I’m a primarily character-oriented person. All I need to enjoy a story is enjoy the characters I’m reading.
Therefore, that’s what I’ll talk about first. Where do you go about finding a main character? Do they grow on trees? While sometimes characters just come to you already all together and ready for you to use in a story, most of the time, they form piece by piece. A few of my characters formed piece by piece, and I’m going to talk about one of them. He ended up being an RPG character, actually, while a non-Elven version of him will probably turn up in another of my stories later on.
In any case, I was 16, I needed to think of a character for a fantasy setting (I’ve always been primarily interested in science fiction) and I had an idea. It wasn’t a very big idea, nor was it a very good one, but it worked for me. Yes, I had decided to have a half-Elven thief. To me, that seemed like an amusing traditional (read: cliché) fantasy race to have as an elf. I also decided that he would have a dog.
Of course, this was for a world that already had set races. For your own fantasy worlds, you may want to start simpler. (Although you might want to make the distinction between human and non-human first, for future simplification). Think of an interesting quirk. Once you’ve thought of that, the rest of the story and character should start to fill itself in. For instance, you should try to find out why that character acts a certain way. If the quirk is something embarrassing, or something like a nervous tic, you should try to figure out what the character does when it’s mentioned by somebody else.
Okay, you might say. That’s great, but how do I make a main character? Or more, how do you make this character into a main character? The easiest way, actually, is to make him or her normal. (Well, here’s a big can of worms, after all, what is normal?) What I mean by this is that your character should be primarily driven by something that people can relate to. Most people can’t relate to a character who doesn’t behave like a real person and doesn’t have any reason for doing what it is that he or she does. This is, of course, only the way that I write, but I find that if a main character has hopes and desires, the entire story will be better for it. Instead of a cardboard stand-in, your story will star a real person.
At this point, I generally just think of a story to fit around the character which makes him or her the main character since it’s their story. The nice thing about making a main character and then forming the story around that character is that you don’t have to worry about that horrible situation in which something has to happen in order for your plot to advance and there’s just no way that your character would ever do that.
However, some people find that that’s not the best way to get a main character for their story. This is primarily due to personal tastes and writing style more than anything else. While I’m mostly character-oriented, some people are driven more by plot and the story itself. When this is the case, you’ll end up creating your main character backwards (well, backwards to me) which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You’ll start out with the framework of what that character does, and then try to figure out what sort of a person would do what is prescribed in the plot.
These two methods are similar in that they both build a character. However, while the first method is like starting with the insides of the character and working out, the second method is more like starting with the skin and filling in the insides. The method that works the best for you is obviously up to you you’ll have to figure it out for yourself.
Of course, there are some stories that just don’t work this way and this is by no means a prescription. If you’ve got a method of your own that works or you’re one of those lucky people whose stories and characters just show up one day, ready to go, then you should stick with whatever works for you.
About | Contact | Submit | Advertise | Donate | Archives | Staff