They say writers have multiple personalities.
In a way, this is true. I know that when I write characters, I tend to mold myself into him or her and take on their personality. I live another life with every book I write, and that life will always be in those pages. I guess you could say that’s what being immortal feels like.
Of course, some characters are more fun to write than others.
I love to write Sin, and I think it’s because he can do and say everything that I am too afraid to do myself (who else do you know would casually tell someone to go drink hemlock?). But he’s only my current favorite. Just like Kitfox, Sin may fade into the background with all the characters I have yet to create.
Speaking of creating characters, I’d like to walk you through my process. It’s kind of fun; like building a character for role playing games (think: The SIMs or World of Warcraft). It was actually the RPG, Dungeons & Dragons that started my love for character building.
I’ve been picked on by a few other writers for admitting that I use a modified D&D character sheet as a kind of checklist, but to each their own. I’m not sure how they do it, but my worksheet goes through physical and mental aspects, as well as skills, a history, and even has room for notes should something come up while I write. This worksheet helps me to develop a being from a blank slate to a fully-functioning person.
I have so much fun making characters that I sometimes forget to keep them “human.” Then again, not all of my characters are (as my 38 dragons can attest). But this is my process:
Step 1: The Past = The Now
A personal history makes a character who they are today. What that character went through in the past affects mannerisms, personality, and internal and external conflicts. When you’re building your own character, consider things like a parent’s death, birth of a child, a lover’s betrayal, fond memories, and even greatest fears. All of that plays a part.
You can also consider little quirks, which makes characters seem more human. Take, for instance, Sin’s loathing of doorbells and his abrasiveness. There’s tons of quirks and personality traits out there, like the inability to keep relationships, an obsession with certain things, parties too much, or laziness.
Pick a few as a base for your character’s personality, and you can keep building on them. Things like hairstyle or the type of clothing and even the role he or she plays in the story all derive from that history.
Step 2: Shop for Features
Picking out physical features like height, weight, hair and eye color, and race are usually a breeze. The coloring for my Dakun Daju race (Dragon Diaries) was practically unlimited due to their alien nature, which is why you get Shazza’s lime green hair and orange eyes (not to mention, her staggering 9ft 3in height). Human coloring isn’t nearly as flamboyant.
While there are several colors of hair dye and contact lenses available, the root of human coloring is actually pretty bland. We’re basically just different tones of brown with a few minor mutations thrown in.
When it comes to describing or selecting natural skin tones, I turn to my handy dandy foundation makeup chart. I use yet another diagram from the health and beauty department for making my hair color selections. And it’s the same for eye colors.
Step 3: What is in a name?
The hard part of character building is picking out a name. Sometimes, I’ll have a name in mind before I even start the build, but when I start piecing the character together, the name no longer fits. Take Kitfox’s original name, Sköll (a Norse warg who chases the sun). That’s when I turn to sites like babynames.com to find a name and even the meaning and origins behind it (plus, you can create an account to save the names for later use). There’s also several name generators out there to help. I’ve turned to FantasyNameGenerators.com several times when I’ve hit a wall.
If all else fails, I just stare at word search puzzles. That’s how I got the names Q’veca and Thernu. Other times, I’ll take a word and scramble the letters about. Like Earth becomes Thera or Zenith becomes Ithnez.
Step 4: The Look
You’ve now got the idea of your character’s looks and personality. All that’s really left is bringing it all together. You can take the easy route and just use Bing’s Image Search engine to comb through actors or other characters until you find someone who resembles what you pictured your character to look like. There’s also the option of using a modelling program like Blender or MakeHuman to make the character yourself, but it takes practice to modify the blank slate into a decent representation. If you don’t mind spending a little money, you can always hire someone off Fiverr or DeviantArt to give you a hand. You might even want to give Aidana WillowRaven a peek (she’s the one who did the character design for my Dragon Diaries cover).
Personally, I prefer drawing my own characters. But, since I’m a visual person, I am able to find pictures of features on various people I like, and blend them all together on one being.
This is an optional step, and can be rather time consuming, but I feel that it helps concrete your character’s existence. And you can use it as a quick reference when you need to describe him or her.
At least that’s how I make my humanoid characters. Perhaps I’ll introduce you to the dragons next week.