Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Creating characters

By Pamela Moeng

Which comes first - the chicken or the egg? And which comes first in a story - the story idea or the character?

Robert Sawyer, in his online article "Constructing Characters," says it's easier to start with a premise and build the perfect character - like a purpose-built robot - for that premise.

Sayer, winner of 25 awards for fiction and teacher at several universities, says that unlike real people who are a jumbled collection of random characteristcs, characters in a story are "made to order to do a specific job".

A write-by-the-seat-of-my-pants author, his notion seemed at odds with my own characters who seem to arrive fully developed, but I see the advantage of asking myself what kind of character would bring the biggest drama to a story.

He says that this works well for the original premise but may not work if you try using the same character for another premise, i.e. a sequel if the character is not a good fit for the sequel's premise.

Of course, showing the characteristics of your ficitonal character can be done in numerous ways. Dialogue, including not only what your character says but how too. What vocabulary does he or she use, how does he or she use grammar? Behaviour also shows rather than tells what kind of person the character is. Interaction and response to other characters and situations can also build your charcter(s) in your readers' minds.

To read more about characterisation go to Robert J sawyer's website:

Share with us: how do you create your characters?

1 comment:

Damaria senne said...

I work the opposite way of Robert Sawyer. When a story comes to me, it usually starts out with a character who bugs me until I tell his/her story. So then, I'd say I start with characters who are then placed in plot situations.

It makes it easier for me to write, because in any plot situation, I have a good grasp of what the character would do if they were acting in character. I don't always go with that option, because people don't always act in character and when they don't, things get interesting and they may also learn something and grow, which is good for character development too.

I think this would also work for me for potential sequels too, because as long as I have the character in hand, I can create plot situations and put the character in there and see what emerges.

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