Writing Characters

Rebecca Eaton

Writing has been a passion of mine since I was around six years old. Now, at twenty, it’s still my main source of joy.

My writing has taken many forms over the years, both through choice and because of the multi-genre nature of my course; given the choice, I tend to bounce from poetry, to novels, to fanfiction and back. But the one thing I focus on in all my work, no matter what form it takes, is characterisation. To me, characters are the single most important aspect of writing.

In writing fanfiction (and for those of you who don’t know, fanfiction is where you write stories about characters and scenarios from already existing media, like Star Wars), characters are always my focus. I want them to be interesting, complex – for readers, and for me, to feel like they have further stories to explore.

One of Rebecca’s character sketches

In my own original work, every story I come up with focuses on the characters. The characters are the story. When I begin to work on an idea for a novel or short story, I usually begin with a loose, one-sentence scenario in mind: “A coven of all-female vampires”, for example. From there, I let my imagination run wild, giving me traits and names and personalities – never, at this stage, fully formed. But they pass through my mind and a character grows as a result.

What I’m saying is that, when writing, I plan. Planning is a key part of my process, and the reason why I’m able to have so many projects on the go at once. The way my mind works means I get new ideas almost every day, about different things, with different themes and different characters. Because of this, when I get my one-sentence idea, I put it in a notebook and leave it. And I come back to all my ideas when I have an idea for the character(s).

Those characters then drive my plots. I have an idea, then I make a character or two, and when I’ve drawn up a full profile, I start developing a plot. Take my idea from earlier (a real idea, one I’ve worked with): “A coven of all-female vampires”. From there, I created my two main characters, Ada and Rosaire. And once I’d given them names, families, looks, personalities, back stories, I began thinking of the plot of my story.

…and another

Do you see my process? I know everyone has a different one. But sometimes I feel we are prone to forgetting just how important characters are. They are what connects us to stories. If we get attached to them, when they cry we feel sad, when they fall in love we feel joy, and so on. A good plot is nothing without good characters. And I don’t mean good as in morally good, I mean good as in well-rounded, fleshed out, interesting, or fun. They can be morally reprehensible, but they must be interesting.

Back to my coven of female vampires. After settling on what they were like – did they burn in the sun? Did garlic affect them? And so on – I began to think about my main character. She would be kind, intelligent, rather awkward, I thought.

And from there, I began to craft a character profile, researching for the perfect name, making a family tree, giving her the perfect background. Making sure to include small details that may seem irrelevant but helped a clearer picture of her, of Ada, to emerge, until she became more like a real person, like a friend, rather than a fiction.

I can picture her clearly in my mind right now: pale brown skin, dark and wavy hair and grey eyes, a small, kind smile. She speaks with a hint of a French accent, and stands tall in a gown of deep blue. I can hold a conversation with her about her favourite books, know what she would think about, say, Liz Truss. She’s a person, wholly-formed, and so can carry the plot of a story, and make people feel connected to it.

Rebecca Eaton is a final-year BA Creative Writing student at NTU.

%d bloggers like this: