7 Ways that Characters Come into Being

9:52 AM

Greetings and salutations!

Lately I've been pondering on the crazy amount of ways that we meet people. Some we meet through our workplace. Some through school. Some, we just randomly meet through an event.

But how do we authors meet up with our characters?

1. You meet them at the same time your other characters.

This happens more often than not to those authors that employ the "pantsing" method of drafting. You know what happens - your character is going on, minding her own business, and suddenly...she meets someone. Someone who doesn't leave.

A personal example would be my side character Lilliwen from my WIP Hidden Seeds.

Lilliwen introduced herself fully while I was deep in the throes of drafting. Sure, there had been a brief mention of a legitimate suitor in my notes, but it never occurred to me that she would have such a bearing on the story until quite later.

I meet a lot of characters this way - and I'm not the only one. Even great authors like J.R.R. Tolkien have characters coming out of the dark woods to greet them (i.e. Faramir).

2. You botch an avatar.

I'm pretty sure this is unique to me, but this is a true story.

So I was creating avatars for the competitors from the Karala Games for my in-progress debut, The White Rose. I was using the Azalea/Doll Divine avatar builders, specifically those based off of LOTR and Game of Thrones, basing the avatars on images that I had gotten off of Pinterest.

I come round to creating the avatar for Chan Zhi, who is the prince of Shaltei. Now, Shaltei, as you may have guessed, is Asian inspired. So, an Asian style avatar was called for, in this case.

Initially I used the LOTR avatar builder, using this aesthetic.

Comparing side-by-side with the original aesthetic, it doesn't really match at all. The avatar looks a little too.....European?

So I decided to do a complete redo.

I switched to the Game of Thrones avatar maker, and got a different "face" with more definitive Asian features.

This second avatar proved much more satisfactory, even though I really wish that I could have combined the styles of costumes. Neither avatar really gives a good idea of what Shalteise costuming is, but that is to be expected I suppose.

But now, what to do with this other avatar?

Something in me just quailed about deleting that first avatar entirely. I had put an hours time in that avatar and so I didn't want that time to go to waste. I looked and looked at both of them side by side and found a resemblance. A brotherly resemblance.

Thus Sang Hai was created.

3. You suddenly realize that there are not enough characters

Normally, this isn't a problem for us authors - in fact, there are usually too many characters. However, there could be instances in which a game doesn't have enough players or some other crowding situation.

In my case, it was in Fair Winds. I was suddenly informed by my characters that there was a second pirate ship that needed crew members of it's own. Hence it was time to dig into the Pirate Name Generator and find another dozen or so characters to run that ship.

4. You see an aesthetic on Pinterest

This is similar to the first way that I mentioned, but this is a little more direct. It's the author meeting a character rather than the characters meeting the character.

You could just be casually scrolling through and then, wham! You're faced with a face that you instinctively "know". One that MUST be one of your characters, otherwise why would have he/she captured your fancy?

5. A real person inspires it

We all know about the old classic trope of authors basing characters off of themselves. But what about other people inspiring characters?

I started employing this technique last year when I was doing a redevelopment of one of my really really old baby stories, now known as Plain and Simple Truth. I was employed at the dairy at the time, so I was quite literally surrounded by the perfect aesthetic for it.

While I was there, I studied the people that I worked with on a daily basis quite frequently. And thus, almost all of the "English" characters came from this one farm that I worked on. Crazy, right?

6. They come from a description of something else.

Description says a lot about a character. I mean, if your character refers to a trait of another character as coming from another person or even a thing....it not only deepens that character's development, but it gives you another character! Because no author can have too many characters, in my opinion. 

Cockles, my cat from Fair Winds, was actually created with this method. She came into being because I described ocean waves like a cat's caress around the leg. Before that moment, cats were the furthest thing from being put into my story, though I suppose any old ship needs at least one cat in order to keep the rodent population down.

While most characters using this method never really go further than a mention, there are some exceptions (i.e. Cockles - who went from a mention to a major character).

7. They come from song lyrics

Whether you find lyrics on Pinterest, or you listen to a song on a whim, a character can pop out from the poetic lines of a song. Many authors use song lyrics as character aesthetics too.

A personal example of this would be my characters Rose O'Neill and John Callahan, who are the protagonists from "Rose of Culmore". Both of these characters came straight from the Irish folk song "The Maid of Culmore" - the latter being the male narrator and the former the "Maid" that he references to.

And there you have it! It's crazy how many ways characters can be conceived, right? How do you create your characters? 

Scribbingly yours,


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  1. I love the story of the cat! Cockles is such a good name! I'm pretty sure I've done most of these, and definitely the writing along and BOOM there's a new character!

  2. I have done a few of these, I must admit. :) Sometimes though, when I create a character I don't give them a name so I have to go as far as to search for names...it's easier if the story is set in our world rather than a fantasy one. Because if it is a Fantasy story, I am searching for names and trying to make a name that sounds like it but isn't it. XD But as for the things you've mentioned that I've done, I am likely to get inspired by song lyrics, or a painting. And then BAM, there is random character I have no idea what to do with. XD (This may partly be why I have so many "orphaned" characters).


    1. Interesting, I think J.R.R Tolkien did something similar. Though I have trouble finding names that fit my characters sometimes, but the idea of a character is usually what happens and the name comes later (for me)...but I have found myself labeling characters for example "the priestess to the goddess of war," "so and so's father", "so and so's brother", etc.

      Agreed. The poor orphans need stories which I don't happen to have for them at the moment.


    2. P.S. I hope I finally find some names for the characters I am labeling at the moment. Because for some reason I have not found or made up a name that fits them.

  3. This is such an insightful post! xD I actually have all my characters spring into being out of nowhere, so...I don't really know how I find them. But these methods are so interesting and I love them! Especially the avatar one.

  4. Oh boy... I'm pretty sure a majority of my characters have come from #1...

    Great post, Catherine!

  5. X'D OMW all the charries!!! Usually mine pop into my head out of nowhere and are like "HI THERE WE ARE GOING TO BE YOUR NEW BEST FRIENDS!". X'D X'D Also-COCKLES IS AN AMAZING NAME!!! :-O I love it!!!

  6. It's so cool how many different ways your characters arrive!! :D Mine tend to show up and refuse to leave (many a POV charrie has come into being that way) or come from names I find on a list. XD

  7. This is so cool! Usually I go into a story with a pretty good idea of who's gonna be fun to write, and sometimes fun people show up as minor characters and it's like "huLLo I need you as a lead." It's quite fun.

    But #3 happened to me this past fall and threw me for a loop. It's hard writing characters primarily because they're necessary instead of primarily because they're fun. :P

    And I second MC: "Cockles" is a PERFECT name. I want to meet this feline.

  8. These are all so accurate. For me it's mostly 4,5, and 7


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