Character identity follows these steps in this order:
- Characters start with a role in the plot: detective, necromancer, ghost, criminal, etc.
- Characters are cast as real people: actors, musicians, someone who would play them in a movie
- Characters names are given based on who they look like, what feels natural to call them.
- Character personalities are given between 1-5 adjectives. None of this is written down, this is more of, “Okay, I know [character] will be a dad personality. So he’ll be tough, protective, etc.”
After step four, I begin to write the characters. I don’t ever have their entire personalities pinned down when I start writing them. Characters grow and develop AS I write, because it’s the most genuine. The same we grow and develop in life based on the life we live and the people we’re surrounded by.
Choosing who I would cast as the characters is honestly the most fun. Typically I choose actors and musicians because I can find lots of pictures of them on Pinterest and IMDb. I think I have 300 pictures of Park Jinyoung who I cast as Keitaro. Why so many? I promise it’s not obsession. He’s not even my bias, for crying out loud. I save pictures of expressions, moods, of these actors/musicians in certain outfits, all of it intended to help me write emotion and description better. I am a visual learner, so to SEE these people unknowingly “acting out” a scene or mood that I’m writing helps me write it better.
Names for characters are THE most important part of their identity. If a character is a specific ethnicity, I always try to find names that match. For example, I knew Riordan in my next book is going to be Russian, so I found a Russian name that FELT like the guy I’d cast as him. Keitaro’s name started off as Jeitaro, but the J was too soft. For all the fighting he does, Keitaro needed something stronger so I replaced the first letter and it fit him perfectly.
It’s the weirdest thing, too, that tall characters in my books MUST HAVE long names. It’s almost as if I’m expressing their height horizontally with the name. I don’t know why I do this, but it feels silly for a tall guy to have a short name.
First and last names are ALWAYS a must. The only characters I don’t give last names to are secondary and tertiary characters. You never know when a last name is going to come into play in the present book or future books.
Often, I’ll name secondary characters based off people I know in real life. Friends get good secondary characters; people with trash personalities get to be secondary villains. Really awful people get tertiary characters named after them.
I rarely give my characters backstories. If those details aren’t coming up in the plot, they’re totally irrelevant to waste time developing. For example, does Anja from my debut book Cursed by Cobrador have parents? Obviously, but do I know anything about them? Absolutely not. Her parents had nothing to do with that book, so I never spent time developing that part of her.
Sometimes a character has an obvious wardrobe like Anja with her long dresses or Keitaro with his HUGO BOSS suit and suspenders. Other times, the outfit has nothing to do with the character whatsoever, so I don’t describe it or even really consider it.
I know where characters will end up from the minute I start writing them. I know exactly where their journey will end. Endings are often where I start, actually. Do I know how they’ll get there? Not every step of the way. I just know they will end here and start here. What happens in between will happen the most realistically and the most naturally.
With Anja and Keitaro, I know exactly where they’re going to end up at the end of a book series I haven’t even written yet. Six or so books down the line, I know where they’ll be. I knew that the moment I met them.
Characters I write are inspired by one of two types of people:
- People I know
- People I WISH I knew
Main characters are often people I wish I knew. Anja is half of who I am and half of who I want to be. Danillo is the dad I wish I had. Alex is the mechanic I wish I was best friends with. By creating the people I wish I were surrounded with, I get to have all the right friends and lovers in the world.
Secondary characters almost always resemble somebody I’m fond of. For instance, Nic in my book Cursed by Cobrador is based off my best friend Nicole Baker. And Dante was inspired by the real guy who taught me what was normal after I was abused by my ex-husband.
The first time I got a sketch of Anja back from Christos Karapanos, his talent and ability to bring my character to life took my breath away. When the artwork was done, I got to “meet” my character and I bawled my eyes out. He took someone that lived in my head and breathed life into her and I got to SEE her and I’ll never forget that feeling. It happens every time he finishes a piece of art for me. And it’s because he draws so realistically, it’s like a photograph of them.
Seriously, if you’re ever thinking about having your work drawn, Christos is right in market with all other artists and does a phenomenal job! You can check out more of his jaw-dropping art HERE
I never request art for a character until after I’ve written them to 100% certainty. For instance, I didn’t have the characters of Cursed by Cobrador drawn up until I’d fully developed their characters by writing at least half the book. Details are subject to change and continue to change as the book progresses. So I wait until I know for sure who they are, what weapon they’re using, what colors they’re wearing, etc. Artwork is one of the final steps in the writing process.
How is your approach to writing characters similar or different than mine? Would love to hear about your writing process in the comments below! Thanks for reading!