Thinking about the first steps of writing a fictional story, when it comes to creating a character there are a lot of different ways that you can begin.
When I look back and break down a story (from a writing perspective because reading is a different mind-set) there are three facets which stand out the most to me:
The writing process should blend it all together until there are no inconsistencies for a reader to pick up on. Losing track of a story because the details don’t add up isn’t something that most readers welcome.
It is very, very rare for my first thought about a character to be their name. It’s probably the most flexible part of the process for me because I’ve been known to change the name of a main character up to eleven times before making a final choice. Refusing to change a character’s name just because it wasn’t the first name that I thought of can completely halt the creative process in my experience. Flexibility can go a long way.
More often than not, I’ll begin with a physical or mental trait, e.g. red hair or stubbornness.
After deciding on a defining trait or two I’ll usually turn to the dialogue and write a few lines just to see if I’m comfortable writing for that character. Writing a character’s ‘voice’ is a bit of a skill because the dialogue of a historical romance will always differ from a gritty detective novel and so forth. It takes practice and reading dialogue out loud whether it’s a novel or a script is a good tip. If it sounds natural as you speak then a reader shouldn’t be torn rudely from the flow of the story. I have also never met a group of writers who can completely agree upon whether or not you should write in ‘accents’ so the best advice I’ve heard is to go with the pattern you’re most comfortable with. Practice helps.
For the majority of the time, I will drop a character into a scene after knowing nothing more than these few details. I’ve decided on a name just before introducing them and I’ve also written paragraphs before mentioning their name. However, I’ve usually figured out their name before the end of the first page. If this isn’t the case and I have trouble finding a name, then considering whether or not the character is working within the confines of the story is always an option.
Deciding whether you want to avoid stereotypes or play them up is what every writer must consider, especially once they know the genre of their tale. If you take any kind of class/ read any book about creative writing, then you’re bound to come across the terms ‘round’ or ‘flat’ when it’s referring to the creation of characters. A ‘round’ character should be complex and have multiple facets of a personality whereas a ‘flat’ character is much less complicated and usually lacks flaws.
Every character should have a purpose, a reason for being in the story/scene/etc.
As a storyteller you are essentially trying to convince a reader that whatever you’ve written is true. It doesn’t matter what genre or form it takes because a writer is working in the realms of turning disbelief into belief.
Being able to tell if a character will work out or not can be instinctual but, in my experience, if you keep finding more reasons to follow the character through the story then you are onto a good streak.
Yesterday I was lucky to find two free booklets in my local bookshop that contained excerpts of stories that are due to be published later this year.