Believable, relatable, fully developed characters can make or break a story for me, whether I’m writing it or reading the work of another. When I create a character, I kind of have a general idea of who I want them to be at the start. I then begin to break down reasons for all the various traits the character exhibits. All of my characters have vivid backstories, if not explained in the story at least in my head. I treat them like real people, who have real experiences and life events that have molded them into who they are. This way, by intimately knowing my creations, I can keep them constant in their actions or dialogue. It’s very disconcerting when a character acts “out of character”. I tend to use this on purpose. If one of my characters does or says something that just doesn’t quite fit, it might be a clue to the reader that more is going on than has been revealed at that point.
One of the leads in my book Paper Gods is a young, 20 year old female named Annie. She is a pastiche stitched together from a variety of sources. I used part of the personality of my niece, who is a proud, southern girl who can be a bit too mouthy for her own good sometimes. She is a music lover of the first order with distinct tastes and preferences. However, I chose to create a different history for Annie that helps define her more. Annie is the only daughter of a former rock star groupie, who after Annie was born took to stripping to pay the bills. It’s way more in depth in the actual story, but this provides reasons for Annie’s likes, dislikes and choices she will eventually make. Physically the character is well developed in my mind. This is important for her because her physical beauty is a definite part of her personality. Having developed into a stunningly beautiful female by the age of 14, people treated her in a manner they might have treated other teenage girls, so she has learned to respond accordingly. I see Annie in my mind’s eye as a young Erika Eleniak. She of course would have different experiences than a young Mayim Bialik. I find the distinction important.
I would never want to ape an existing character completely. I may draw inspiration from one major source, but give it my own twist, or I might create a new recipe from scratch, using a whole slew of elements that I think will meld into a viable creation. I really don’t think it through too much. For me it just all seems to fall into place once I meet the character in my head. They THEY tell me their story. They are real people to me. I hope to translate them to the page in that fashion.