I am not one of those writers whose characters talk to them, not in the literal hearing-voices-in-your-head way, nor do I like using that as a metaphor for character creation. Probably because I like to be in control. I also think that’s why I never got into role-playing games; I didn’t want other people’s ideas interfering with my own and changing them. I talk to other people about my characters sometimes, and have used ideas others have given me, but I don’t think that’s the same; I’m still in charge of my own characters.

But enough about me wearing a crown and being The Mighty Dictator.

What techniques do I use?

1. Give character a name and gender. This in itself often tells me other things; for example, to pick a name I might have to know the character’s ethnicity.

2. Figure out the character’s function in the story. Sometimes, often, this comes before name and gender.

3. I don’t write the biography of my character. I usually make things up as I need them, or as they occur to me. A novel character might be the sidekick in the previous novel. Before, we know he had two sisters. Now that he’s a protagonist, those sisters need names and problems.

4. If I get stuck, sometimes I make notes. I’ve tried the “list of adjectives to describe X” technique with some success. Also, “what are X’s problems, and what in his character made these problems terrible to him?”

A technique I’ve used a couple of times as a starting point is to use the characteristics of a particular Zodiac sign or personality type diagram.

5. I write scenes with the character included. Dialogue is most fun and works well for me, and is most likely to produce revelations. Arguments are good. Losing control is good. What is she like then? I don’t think a writer can really understand a character until they’ve written her into scenes, because the way she is in your head is never exactly the same as she appears on paper (at least for me). Tipsheets are fine, but it’s showing the character in action that makes her live.

6. Finally, there’s letting go. Sometimes I stop and do something else for a while, like reading or going for a walk. When I go back to work, sometimes my subconscious has come up with connections I hadn’t realized before, such as “Josefina’s mother was a union organizer,” which I can then work into the story.

Related posts:
Caring About Your Characters – Or Not.
Zero Drafting.