It’s the awkward question every author dreads from their readers… Where do characters come from? Worse even than the very similar “Where do babies come from?” when your toddler asks it. Because while there’s a real, tangible answer to the toddler’s question, there isn’t one to the reader’s.
Obviously they come from my head. So is it like Athena springing fully formed from Zeus’s head? The very thought gives me a migraine. So, no. It takes a while to really get a hold of who a character is. But where do they come from?
I can’t answer for other writers, but my characters are formed by the plot of my story. Of course, I have to have some idea about them in order to get started on the story, but it’s really a very soft-edged, sort of fuzzy idea at first. I always start with a hero and a heroine and fill in the side characters as I go. For instance, when I started Out of Time, I knew I needed a heroine who could start out the story a little clueless and very down-to-earth, but Kaelyn became a highly adaptable leader as fantastic events unfolded around her.
As for my hero Jack, I knew he needed to be serious in the beginning. After all, his role for a hundred years has been as a self-appointed guard against danger. He starts out almost severe, but from the moment he encounters Kaelyn, there’s a spark of something else there. Over the course of the story, he developed a sense of humor I enjoyed writing. Love brought out the best in him, I suppose.
As for what they look like, I did make them sort of opposites on purpose. Kaelyn is blonde, fair, blue-eyed and (of course) beautiful. Tall enough to reach the top shelf on her own…but not too tall. Jack on the other hand is over six feet tall, gorgeous, dark hair and complexion. You can figure out for yourself what the dark complexion means…I’m not totally certain myself, but it felt right to me when Kaelyn thinks about his “dark perfection”.
But are my characters ever based on real people? Not anymore, and never on purpose. I did it by accident once with a minor character. I hadn’t even realized how I felt about the person I based the character on until the reviews started coming in, and everybody disliked the character in question, who I thought was a positive to the story…and then I started to make the connection.
I still hope the real person doesn’t realize what I did.
I’m very careful about that now. I don’t dislike anyone enough to subject them to the unforgiving permanence of the written word. (Even my written word, which is read by literally dozens of people and may not really be that permanent at all.) I try never to use any names of people I know, though I think they sneak in from time to time. And if I base the appearance of a character on anyone, it’s on someone I don’t actually know. I mean, you only have so many different natural hair and eye colors, and romance characters are almost always slim and/or well-built. It’s escapism, after all.
So, I guess in a very real way, my characters grow existentially. I pluck their little stick figures from my head, put them in a story and they take form and flesh from their surroundings, turning into real imaginary people.
It really doesn’t have anything to do with birds and bees.
Do you have any favorite fictional characters? Let me know in the comments.