How can you research characters if they doesn’t exist?
One of the hardest parts of writing characters is getting the balance right. It’s indisputable that anyone who creates a character puts something of themselves into their work. Their habits, beliefs, unconscious bias and prejudices will inevitably surface.
But that’s fine, because when you write well-rounded characters, the details of your own life add vibrancy and authenticity.
But there is a risk. In early drafts of my next book, I made my characters too much like me. They were thin and two dimensional, and didn’t have that necessary X factor that makes them someone the reader would want to engage with. Someone whose life is changed by the events around them. Someone caught up in a bigger drama.
So how do we avoid that trap?
When writing, I spend a fair bit of time researching the places I am talking about, the issues I want to surface, buildings, streets, cities, towns. But I also research the people I create.
That might sound weird. How can you research someone who doesn’t exist, who you just made up? I spend weeks getting to know these characters and deciding what makes them tick. Sometimes those weeks end with me deciding not to go forward with their application to play a role in my story.
Each character study is a set of behaviours, a set of habits. Each person has a history, a past, hopes and dreams, friends and enemies. They’ve all had to make difficult decisions and mistakes.
To get the balance spot on, a writer has to go inside themselves and think about the things that make them into the person they are. Their foibles and flaws and idiosyncrasies. Things that they wish they could change about themselves. Things they are proud of, and the kind of person they aspire to be.
I try to think about my values, what I would do in someone else’s shoes. I sit in the character’s head, and work out what they are thinking given what I’ve found out in my research. What are their problems, and how could I reach into their skull and solve each one.
How do you create your characters?