A Tip For Creating Characters

creating characters

Here’s a question: Do you create characters before plotting or plot before creating characters?

There is something strange that happens after I write my characters. First I write them, then I plot. Some authors write their plot with only shapes of characters they then fill in the details.

Yesterday an idea struck me when I saw a photograph of a grave. I only wrote down a working title that kept my inspiration alive for later. I do that all the time but I usually abandon those ideas (at least for quite a while).

This one was different. I did other things during the day and I sat down later just to throw a few more ideas out there, in abyss. I wrote a few lines about the story, where it would take my characters and how it would affect them. The underlying theme is the improbability of change – hidden deep under the sheer creepiness of the story.

Now, I wrote my characters quickly. I knew I wanted my protagonist to be the classic troubled hero (but with a small twist) and his sidekick was to be careful, elderly friend. As I started plotting the story just spilled out of me onto paper. Every step they make is meaningful but the way they started acting was something I didn’t expect.

The message of this story is: follow your characters. Now, I didn’t like they way they were going at first but as the story progressed I realized it works. My troubled hero isn’t as what I had imagined, neither is his friend. The pair showed wonderful chemistry through the plotting process and I decided to keep it.

You may be wondering why I address them as if they were alive. But, they sort of are. I simply met them yesterday.

So, in one sitting I wrote a basic premise for a short story, wrote characters, threw some more ideas in it, decided it couldn’t e a short story – or even a novelette. It might be strange to hear this, and it was strange to do it, but I never liked an idea of mine as I like this one. Keeps me chained to my desk.

I spilled over three thousand words in describing the story and characters. And of course, they changed even more. Once I wrote the first chapter I saw they were even more different then before but as long as I understand them, so will the readers.

Yes, I know, it’s too quick to be real or any good. But I keep saying, the first draft is merely a blueprint for the author to write their story.

I woke up this morning wanting to read the plot and the first chapter, to see if it was all a sweet dream of me being hyper-productive. It wasn’t. I still like it. Of course, once I start cutting I shall be merciless. But, there is something about this pair of undertakers I deeply enjoy and it makes me think about them and now share their journey from my head to the paper.

So, remember that plot affects your characters in unexpected ways. It will shift them and change them. As long as you find it works that way it’s great. Don’t try keeping characters the way you had imagined only because you don’t want to change them – because they are perfect that way. Of course they will change.

Now I’m off to write some more. I advise you do the same.

As always, keep writing!

Author: Mladen Reljanović

Mladen Reljanović is the founder and lead writer at Writer to Writers. He is the author of Oaktown stories, senior student of communication and a pianist.

10 thoughts on “A Tip For Creating Characters

    1. Have you tried reverse plotting? I linked to plotting methods I wrote about so check that out. I think it’s useful if you get lost like that. Just start with the ending and seek the causes for that exact outcome 🙂

  1. I find it depends on the story and how it comes to me. With my main WIP I definitely created the characters first, as the main 2 girls are both from individual ideas I worked on a few years back. Their stories didn’t work back then, but I loved them as character’s so I built a plot around them.

    Great post, thank you!

    1. I suppose everyone works differently. I must say most of the time, I plot first. This is a one off that’s worked for me so far. I loved your post though, it really made me think!

  2. For the last 38 years, I’ve written using the same characters, each year a new novel in the series. Last year marked the last book, and the ending to those beloved characters. This year, I’m starting from scratch. not sure yet whether the characters will shape the plot, or visa versa, or both. It is a new beginning… a genesis, perhaps.

What are your thoughts on this?