This is another look into my process that I hope will help you guys. I’m not going to tell you that this is the one true way or anything like that, but I do hope that you gain something from it 🙂
My characters come to me fully formed, they’re noisy little people that sit in the back of my mind and quite often glare at me. As there are quite a few of them I take notes on them when I’m in the planning stage, that helps to keep things straight and stops my brain from getting too full 😛
The information that I jot down can be broken down into varying categories. I tend to write it as it pops up, but I’ll try and put it neat and tidy for you. I’ll give you details on some of my characters as I go so you can see how I do it 🙂
What do these little people look like? In Dacian’s case he’s around about 6’2, swimmer’s build, thick black hair, striking grey-green eyes, on the paler side of white, and usually dressed in jeans and t-shirt. He keeps the vast majority of his tattoos hidden, as he’s a tattoo magician he keeps his two main tattoos on show, else people would get suspicious, and normal tattoo magicians can’t hide their tattoos. So if we were to strip him down, we’d see a nice amount of toned muscle, a black cat on his shoulder-blade, that’s Kyra. Sometimes she’s curled up, other times she sprawls out or looks like she’s hunting. A little further down we’d see a large black snake semi-coiled, with his head just below Dacian’s shoulder and his tail down by the base of his spine. That’s Sin.
If he were to allow us to see all of his tattoos we’d see he’s covered in varying runes and spells, he only has two animals despite that being the skill he shows the world. He doesn’t have any scars or old injuries of note, and he’s in his early twenties just coming into his prime.
I usually only jot down the broad strokes of the personality, the smaller details come in later sections. Quin is bubbly, smiley, thoughtful, trusting, passionate, and creative. He loves learning, he loves life. That being said he’s not to be underestimated and is fiercely protective of those he loves. On the surface he seems as though he’s very laid back, he goes with the flow and doesn’t let anything get him down. Beneath that he’s a deep thinker and he thoroughly enjoys a good puzzle.
That gives me enough to have a pretty good image in my head, I know how he’ll react to big things and I have a reasonable idea of his views on the main group and the world around him. From there I start looking into their past because our past has a big impact on us as people, and thus them as characters.
Their past can be broken down into some groupings:
- Turning points.
- Major trauma.
- Big positive moments.
- Social standing through childhood.
- Hopes and dreams – achieved?
- Love and friendships.
- Cultural upbringing and surrounding.
For Quin and Evie a turning point and major trauma was the loss of their parents the day after their eighteenth birthday. Elise’s education was very much focused around her training as a priestess for the moon goddess, that means that her friendships and love life were a little scarce. Evie on the other hand pulled away from people from a young age, that combined with Elise’s priestesshood meant they cemented their friendship at a young age and they’re incredibly close.
The alchemist’s upbringing and surroundings were one of a rather well to do magical boarding school, she was surrounded by incredibly competitive magical users who were also wealthy. She’s never known what it’s like to want for something. That led her to have a blase attitude to money while being very competitive and a bit of a work-a-holic. She has a point to prove to the world and she’s happy to take big risks to do so.
As you’re already looking at their childhood and their cultural surroundings from their past you can see how that’s changed and how that impacts their views of politics and those around them. Dacian is pretty laid back, he has a “you don’t hurt me, I won’t hurt you” attitude to things. Evie however views the supernals as beasts that must be kept in line. She’s a hunter, it’s her role in life to do just that, and that’s left her pretty jaded about magic and magic users.
I use this time to look at where they stand in their world, and how they view things. Where do they stand in the social hierarchy? Did they always sit in that position? How do they feel about it? What about people in other standings? If you’re writing fantasy, then how do they feel about other species? All of this colours your writing, it has an impact on the narrative, particularly if you write first person like I do.
If you write first person, then your character’s views will sway how you describe the other characters that they bump into. Let’s say that your character was mugged by an elf when they were 12, it was traumatic and had a big impact on them. When they then meet an elf on a dark street 10 years later they could view the elf’s cautious approach as something far more sinister and aggressive. It could be that the elf is nervous of the character, but the character doesn’t see that, they see it through the lens of their own experiences.
Now you have a pretty good idea about their past, you can consider their moral compass.
Where exactly do they draw the varying lines? How do they justify their actions? Just how firmly do they stand by their moral compass?
From here it’s not too difficult to step into whether they’re dominant or submissive (or of course some shade of grey). That will impact how they interact with other characters and how they act in group situations.
You can go so, so, much deeper than all of this but I think that about covers all the notes I might make about my characters. I may look at any mental issues they might have, I do have two stand-alones planned that consider depression, addiction, and self-destructive thought patterns.
There we have it! I hope it helps you.