Feb 27, 2011

How Clear are your Characters?

A Shady Character

How well do you get to know your characters before you start writing? For me, I usually get more of an idea of their situation rather than their personality. I honestly don't know much about my characters until I've finished the first draft. Then I can write them.

Oh, I've been through character workshops, tried exercises and filled out detailed character profiles, including suitable flaws. But once I start writing, all that changes and I end up will a fully formed person, that in almost no way reflects the original idea I had of them.

Secondary and background characters are even more elusive. I went through several edits of Dog Show Detective with a brooding and shy boy in the background, because I didn't know how to write him. Once I realised he was actually funny, then I found out he wasn't shy at all, but rather an extrovert.

I don't mind not knowing everything about my characters before the first draft is finished. Once their voice comes through, the rewrites are easy. I've just got to stop trying to think them so I can see them. How about you, do you need to know your characters well before writing them?

If you do, you can check out some posts I've written on how to create characters:


  1. I don't know my characters all the way through before I write and I prefer it that way. I like to be surprised. My main characters are more clear and over time, I learn to love each of them for their own quirks. Great post.

  2. Aaah well my characters tend to have a life of their own... that means I might THINK I know them, but I never really do. They continue to surprise me, no matter how 'fixed' I thought they were.

  3. Secondary characters ARE elusive. I often worry that I am "fleshing" them out much better than my protagonists/antagonists.

  4. I need to know a little about my characters before I begin because often their personalities will shape what happens to them. I just don't know all the details until much later.

  5. My process is similar to yours. I know a little about my characters beforehand but I'm getting to know them while writing my first draft. I'll flesh them out and make sure they're consistent when I revise.

  6. Good to see I'm not alone. My story always changes too, once I figure out my characters, that adds plot lines. :-)

  7. I'm a bit like you in that interesting situations come to me along with characters. After I'm a few chapters in, I have a better understanding of who they are. During the rewrite, I put the finishing touches on their history and personality.

  8. Depends on what I'm writing. I have a husband/wife team who recur in my novels whom I think I know very well. But their stories are plot focused. On the other hand, the novel I'm currently wrasslin' with has a bunch of characters who are revealing themselves to me only slowly, and they're much more comples than I ever thought of originally.

    And in the novel I'm shopping around, I've changed the name of every single character (to make them refer to some legendary or historical character).

    Good characters must be like real people: complex and evolving.