A bridge over a beautiful waterfall

A bridge over a beautiful waterfall
Nature brings magic

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Writing Wednesday: Character creation

(All right, I know that's a ripoff of the hash tag on Twitter, but it works for what I want to use it for.)

Let's talk world building.  I know, I know.  It's been done to death.  But I've been building on a world for around 20 years.  I think I've figured a few things out over the last two decades.

For me, I don't start with the world itself.  I start with the people inhabiting the world.  I don't mean the general population.  I mean the characters whose story I'll be telling.  Sometimes character creation is very simple.  I've got a vague idea of the story I want to tell, so I select the character TYPE I want.

Do I want a goody-two-shoes hero?  Do I want a Damsel in Distress?  Do I want a barbarian type with huge muscles and no brains?  Do I want a teenager with an attitude problem?  Do I want the perpetually doomed hero or someone who fights destiny tooth and nail?  Whose story am I telling?  This is always my first decision.

Then I go for physical characteristics.  What does this person look like?  What do they smell like?  What do they dress like?  How skinny/fat are they?  Are they muscular?  Tall?  Short?  Yellow with fuchsia polka dots?  Are they even human?  If they're not human, what are they?

Then it's on to the personality traits.  Are they scaredy cats or stupidly brave?  Are they shy?  Do they have a problem thinking they're the center of the universe?  Are they cruel?  Do they like kids?  Do they have a problem with either gender?  Are they ashamed of their own gender?  Do they even accept the fact that they have a gender?  (Yes, I've had gender neutral characters who really weren't hermaphrodites or asexual...they just refused to accept the limitations of either gender.  That person was weird.)  What is their sexual preference?

After that, it's on to the bigger picture.  Do they have a family?  What's their background?  Did they have to fight for survival in a world that was out to get them?  Did they come from a loving family?  Was their past tragic?  Are they just ordinary people who are shortly going to find themselves in an extraordinary situation?

Once I know WHO I can figure out WHERE.  But today we're just dealing with the WHO.  Sometimes, I don't have a story in mind.  Sometimes, as I'm working on other projects or something completely unrelated to writing, I'll have a character wander into the landscape of my dreams or my imagination and demand I tell their story.  If I ignore them they get more and more insistent until I finally pay attention to them.  There are two distinct types of characters who approach me like this: reasonable and unreasonable.

Reasonable characters are ones who have names, faces, and backstories.  I just have to sit and have a chat with them to learn about them.  Cel and Gabe from one of my UF stories showed up like that.  Their story is fascinating and I'm loving it when I can catch snippets of their world.

Then you have the unreasonable ones.  The ones like Ashe Rae Steinburg.  Up until today, I didn't even know that was her name.  All I knew was there was a character named Ash/Ashe (same pronunciation, just a slight variation in the spelling) who wanted me to tell her story.  That was it.  She showed up and demanded my attention but didn't give me anything to work with.

Today, as I was running revisions on ONLY A NAME, Ashe returned and gave me her name.  She's been plaguing me since Sunday and she FINALLY gave me her full name.  Ashe - DON'T call her Ms. Steinburg or she'll go postal on you - is in her early 20's, has hair down to her shoulder blades that's dark coppery red with about three inches of black at the tips, has dark brown eyes and wears a lot of make up, is all types of curvaceous but has a body that's hard as a rock (muscles, not actually made of stone), and is unashamedly opinionated and loud.  She dresses in odd clothing for her area, and she's bisexual.  She prefers women over men, but she'll take what she can get.

Ashe loves tattoos and piercings, and has several of each.  She's a college drop out who works as a part time bartender and does dominatrix work on the side when she can get it.  Ashe is a sex addict and a major control freak who goes in for the whole BDSM lifestyle where she's a Domme.  She came from a normal, semi-religious background but when she left home to go to college she found a darker world that fascinated her.  She started doing more research and dug a little deeper and eventually abandoned her religious roots for a freer (in her mind, at least) lifestyle.  She has violent tendencies and a wicked temper, but she won't hurt children, kittens, or any other young and helpless creature.

So far, so good, right?  I've got some idea of who this woman is.  Now the question is...WHO is she?  I know her looks, a little about her past, but what's her story?  Is it a literary fiction type piece about finding your way after losing your path?  Is it urban fantasy with some kind of magic or supernatural stuff?  Is it a very strange blend of degenerate behaviors that could fit into Aleran?  These are things I MUST know before I can continue working with her.

She's shut up again.  Which means that now I have to figure out what world she fits into.  She doesn't fit into any of my current projects, that's for sure.  So that means she's someone new.  A new story to play with.  Potentially a new world to build.  A new land to populate with creations - either new ones or those characters relegated to my "phone book file", a list of characters and their vital statistics that haven't found their way into a story yet.

Next Wednesday: We'll explore something of Ashe's world...assuming I've figured out enough about it to move on to the next step in my method of world building: the global scene.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like Ashe is taking you into the Erotica genre.