Creating worlds? That’s the easy bit. Populating them with three dimensional characters… that’s a bit trickier. Whether you write for a living, a hobby, for sport, or just to have a laugh, you will eventually reach a point in your storytelling where you’re forced to pluck the innocent bystanders from your life and slap them smack dab in the middle of your literary dreamscape. Don’t be embarrassed. It happens to us all.
But just because a fictional character has a fleshy counterpart, imbued with their quirks, verbal crutches and personality tics, it doesn’t always mean they’re actually memorable.
So, how do you combat that? Dig, my friend. You need to burrow underneath the surface layer affectations and unearth the true source of their core character and examine what piqued your interest in the first place.
Even the most boring person you know can be a source of inspiration in your writing if you scratch the surface carefully enough. As corny as it sounds, we all carry within us a wealth of creativity and inspiration. Your job is to look deeper.
One of the most important parts of being a writer, aside from textual flourishes and clever turns of phrase, is the ability to see the world, both the one you’re creating and the one you live in, through their eyes. What are their views on major and minor things? Are they blessed or cursed with odd perceptions of the way the world should and/or actually works? Do they engage in activities that exist outside social norms?
Once you’ve identified these tidbits, you have the first building blocks for your memorable character’s foundation. But it’s only the beginning. You’ll need to build on this in order to make your newly birthed person dynamic.
Since you’re not creating a clone or an exact replica of your best bud or the nosy neighbor down the hall who tracks you via her peephole every time you leave or enter your front door—seriously, lady, get a life—you’ll want to take a few pages from Baron Victor von’s notebook and Frankenstein your creation up a bit.
If you do your job properly, your patchwork person will seem more believable because they contain traits your friends have that you secretly covet—we covet what we see everyday, Clarice—family member habits that absolutely drive you up the wall, as well as the little insecure bits of yourself you pray nobody really notices (FYI: they do, they’re just too polite to bring it up in conversation). Stop moaning, you’ll always be a part of the mix. You can’t help it. You’re the person you know the best. Yup, it’s true and you heard it here first.
The best thing about your ethereal Prometheus is only you will be able to see the stitches that hold the monstrosity together. To everyone else, the jigsaw pieces fit together seamlessly. But you’re still not done.
You can’t have your bouncing baby entity walking around all starkers—well, you can if you’re writing one of those 50 Shades thingies—so you’ll need to dress them with your imagination and layer in true life details like articles of clothing, substantiating them as a new independent life form while better solidifying your understanding of them.
Then, to top things off, dab them with a little Eau de real desires—just behind the ears—and spray obstacles in the air and have them walk through the mist, before you powder them down with motivations.
And voilà! Take a step back and view your bonafide multidimensional, absolutely-fictional-but-seems-so-damn-real-it’s-scary character. Now all you have to do is repeat the process several more times.
Hey, I never said this would be easy.
Sally forth and be writeful.
— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys