If you write fiction, where do your characters come from? Do you invent them to suit a plot? Do you dream them? Have they always been in the back of your mind waiting for you to tell their stories?
For my current project, my main character, Jenny, showed up in the pages of my notebook. From the first entry about her, I knew her childhood, her mother’s story, her fears and her needs. I could see her face clearly. She walked out of my pen a whole person.
The supporting characters in Jenny’s story came to my mind in a less dramatic fashion, but their personalities are no less vivid.
- Roz was inspired by a friend who is just right to play the role of a teacher figure Jenny needed in her life. Of course, Roz has become quite different from my friend, but I can still feel the echo of that first idea.
- Abby came to life more slowly in a more intellectual fashion. I wanted to explore a certain family dynamic and her character developed to play a role that is removed from my own experience.
- Joy appeared when I needed a character to have a specific job. She became much like a childhood family friend who has the same career. When I write Joy’s scenes, now I hear that friend’s voice in my head.
For these supporting characters, I know a lot about their inner lives and their voices, but physically, they’re blurry. I ponder hair and eye color, height and weight, trying to decide what combination suits them best.
I’ve read that some authors assign actors to their characters to help them imagine how scenes will pan out. Evidently, this technique works better for novels than it does for screenplays, because novelists don’t have to worry about convincing that perfect actor to play the role. And they can imagine the actor at any age, not just the age she is now.
I tried this for a few characters and while it was fun holding auditions, I haven’t gotten far enough to know if it will help me in the long run.
If you write fiction, what techniques do you use to visualize your characters?