There is no one way, or a “correct” way, to go about crafting your characters: especially your supporting characters. I know that I don’t even go about character development in a uniform manner from work to work or “person” to “person.” I don’t really have a process.
- Some characters just pop up in my head, fully formed. I know who they are and what their background is. I know what their major role will be in my story. (Laskenay in “The Crimson League” is a good example of this. I think she will always be my personal favorite of the characters I’ve written.)
- Some characters I have an idea about, but don’t realize how vital they will end up proving to my story or overall series arc. (Like Vane, who makes his first appearance in “The Crimson League” and could almost be called the protagonist of the last two installments of my Herezoth trilogy.)
- Some characters I have a physical image of, but my initial inclinations about who they are and what “makes them tick” are totally wrong. Like Verony Staid, the protagonist of my new WIP who was actually a villain sorceress in a previous draft of a different story.
Still, I wanted to use this post to highlight what might be the most common method I use to develop characters. You could call it:
The “Come, Cliche, Crack Down” approach.
As you can see, this approach has three steps. And a scene I am currently writing for my Herezoth prequel/companion novel really displays it in full effect. Maybe you have experienced something similar. Maybe you go about creating characters a completely different way, because you outline ahead of time. (I like to wing it.)
In either case, I hope this is a fun and perhaps informative read!
The “COME” Stage
This is pretty simple: it’s the arrival of your character. The first time he or she appears on the page. I don’t usually have a full grasp of the character’s potential at this point. I just know I needed someone like this person in the scene at hand
The character I’m highlighting today is Professor Lit. He is a middle-aged professor of history. I introduced him into the story because I needed to introduce magic. Herezoth is all about magic, after all. Especially in the time period in which I set my novel.
So, my protagonist walks into a bar (No, I’m not setting up a joke here.) Seriously, Verony walks into a tavern to meet some friends. And they are talking to the professor and his brother.
You see, Palace servants frequent this tavern, and the Professor is hoping for some royal backing for an expedition to the Pearl Mountains, to find artifacts from and learn more about Herezoth’s ancient sorcerers. Since official channels have failed him, he’s hoping some servants might be able to pull him some strings.
Verony happens to be the queen’s errand girl, so he tells her his story.
The “CLICHE” Stage
Cliche is the next stage. This is when you realize how much you might actually be able to do with your new character, beyond your immediate need for him or her (such as introducing the concept of magic and its roots in your fantasy world.)
I call this stage “cliche” because in my excitement I go way overboard with my mental planning. I usually cross into stereotype territory. You know….
- This guy could do some cool stuff!
- I don’t know if he has magic himself. I think not, but that could change!
- After a kind of rough start maybe he and Verony could grow close. She doesn’t have parents, after all. Maybe he could even be some kind of, I don’t know…. MENTOR.
Um, Gandalf much? What about Dumbledore?
Yeah, the fantasy mentor stereotype is going to be a problem. Other stereotypes I’ve flown into with other characters (in projects I abandoned): the knight in shining armor, the megalomaniac villain, and a bit of Mary Sue as well.
The “CRACK DOWN” Stage
This comes after that moment of realization hits me…. You know, the realization that I can’t exactly recreate Albus Dumbledore as a character.
Since I make up my story as I go, this stage is an extended and slow process of reining in my tendency to go all cliche. I try to individualize my character, both in personality and in the role he will play in my story.
I still don’t know what Professor Lit’s ultimate contribution to my story is going to be. But I know that, based on his first appearance, I’ve set him up to reappear, and I want him to reappear. I have some ideas slowly taking a more concrete form.
Can’t wait to see how this all shakes out! But hey, the mystery and the wonderful surprises have always been my favorite part of the writing process!
- On characters who are mere acquaintances: more important than you think
- What makes readers invest in a frustrating character?
- How to characterize secondary characters without head-hopping
- My favorite secondary characters (and what they have in common)