Here you go —
Creating Characters that Come to Life
For me, as a writer, character development is the hardest part of writing. I can write action sequences and describe a scene with the best of them. But coming up with a character that doesn’t just lie flat on the page has always been a challenge. Over the years I’ve learned a few tricks (and I’d like to give credit to those I learned these from, but I don’t remember where exactly I learned them).
For every major character, you need to know them as well as you can. Sometime between deciding on the plot outline and typing the first scene, I do character development. I open a fresh sheet of word-processing screen and I write a biography of my character. Of course I start with the physical: how tall, hair, eye color, thin, fat, nicely rounded? (People watching is a great resource for this.) Then I go deeper: I talk about his or her strengths, weaknesses, flaws, and prejudices. I decided if they came from a small town or a large city or maybe grew up on a farm. What were their parents like? Did they have brothers or sisters and how was their relationship with their family? What is their education level and what did they study. What do they like to do in their spare time? What books do they read or television programs they watch? Finally, what major events in their life brought them to where they are at the beginning of the story.
I do this for the main protagonist, any major characters he or she may interact with (especially if there is what Hollywood calls a “love interest”) and I do it for the villain. In fact, I work hardest on the villain. The worst thing to have is a clichéd cookie-cutter villain. Someone once recommended deciding what the villain’s friends like about him (or her). Your villain doesn’t have friends, only minions? Then they aren’t a fully rounded out character.
But then comes the hard part. When writing your novel, you have to keep these biographies and character traits foremost in your mind. You can’t violate your character. But, in addition, your characters need to evolve through the narrative. Why have them go through your story if they are not changed by the experience?
I tend to write adventure novels. But who’s going to have the adventure: a cookie cutter character, or a fully formed, three-dimensional person your reader can relate to?
Agent of Artifice Excerpt:
“Please, Mike,” Liesl said, touching my hand. I looked at her and would have loved to please her. She smiled at me and started to say something when the world seemed to explode. Bright flashes filled the alley, reflecting off old brick walls and the glass and metal of the car. The sound of gunfire hammered at us. The car’s windshields shattered. I dropped to the floor, pulling Liesl after me. The shooting stopped for a heartbeat. I was breathing hard, scared to move.
“Hang on!” the driver yelled. The car backed up, tires squealing. The car lurched as it bounced off the walls of the alley. I think the driver was steering without looking, ducking the gunfire that had resumed.
I could hear bullets impacting the front of the car. A loud explosion and the car jerking hard indicated that a tire had been shot out.
The car bounced left and stopped in the street. But this put my side of the car facing the danger. I scrambled away from the door in pure fear. Liesl tried to stop me from crawling over her.
The glass in the windows above us shattered and I felt a thump in my thigh as if someone had hit me there very hard with a closed fist. The car lurched forward and the shooting stopped. I looked up. The warrior was driving the car down a street at breakneck speeds. He had no headlights–presumably they’d been shot out–and I could hear one of the front tires flopping against the fender.
“What the hell?” I screamed.
“Louis is hurt,” the warrior said.
“Damn, so am I.” I had touched my leg and my hand came away bloody.
“Heal yourself,” Liesl ordered me without feeling. She leaned forward. “How is he?”
“Not good. Unconscious.”
She said a very bad word in the ancient language.
I put my hand on my leg and ran a healing spell. The pain and bleeding stopped, but I imagined I could feel the bullet inside me.
“Who were they?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” the driver replied. “I couldn’t see them. They had automatic weapons.”
“Are you hurt?” Liesl asked him. I noticed the Valkyrie was better in emergencies than I was. I felt shame at that.
“Not really,” he replied, jerking the steering wheel. I got the idea the car was hard to control. I could smell hot odors that I thought were coming from the damaged engine.
“You’ve been shot!” Liesl exclaimed.
“I’m fine!” the warrior insisted.
“We need to get Louis to a hospital,” I said, trying to be helpful.
“Where the hell do you think I’m going?” the driver yelled.
“Look out!” Liesl screamed, pointing at a truck coming into our path, barely visible by the neon lights of a nearby bar.
The tires squealed, but I’m sure having one shot out didn’t help. The car slid sideways and its front left corner slammed into the side of the truck with a sound of smashing violence as metal must have been ripping apart. We all were flung forward. The warrior went out the opening where the left windshield should have been. I flew over the back of the seat, slammed my head into the hard steering wheel, and passed out–but not before experiencing the worst pain I’d ever felt. Oblivion was a welcome relief.
I woke up with Liesl pulling me away from the wreckage. A crowd was gathering. She laid me down, roughly dropping my shoulders on the concrete sidewalk, in the shadow of a dark doorway.
“Louis?” I asked.
“I’m not sure. Dead, I think,” she said softly.
“Dead.” The way she said it indicated to me I didn’t want to confirm that for myself.
“Should we go back for Louis?”
She nodded her head. “Yes, I will.” She started walking away. From my angle, on the ground, I could see her legs were bloody, staining her petticoat crimson, and her dress was torn.
A car zoomed up, scattering the rubberneckers, and squealed to a stop. Three men jumped out, all Cuban but wearing suits and hats like American mobsters. All carried large guns, presumably the “automatic weapons” that were fired in the alley. The crowd evaporated in screams. Liesl pointed at the men and one blew apart like a pile of dry leaves before a hurricane, his gun clattering to the pavement. The other two fired at her, their guns spitting a staccato of death, flashing strobe lights of destruction.
Liesl had her protection spell up early enough and the bullets ricocheted off her harmlessly, hitting and pock-marking the walls of the buildings around us. But she couldn’t attack the men while the spell was up. They stopped firing. “Where is he?” one asked. I could see even at this distance his bushy mustache and eyebrows.
I had painfully pulled myself to my feet. My head hurt and my body wasn’t cooperating with it; I had too many injuries to know where to start healing.
“Who are you to ask me questions?” she demanded, her powerful voice filling the street. She was not hiding from them what she was and her power.
I reached for my talisman and pointed a fear spell at the men. It seemed to be all I could do.
“Check the car,” Bushy said.
The other one, thinner and looking young, moved to the vehicle but didn’t take his eyes from Liesl. When he was close enough, he glanced in. “The chardo meta’s in there.” He must have meant Louis.
Bushy looked at Liesl. “Where’s the other one? The other meta?”
“Dead,” she said.
He looked at her questioningly. I changed to a persuasion spell, making him believe it.
“The crash,” she said.
“I need to see the body.”
Liesl must have detected what I was doing. “You don’t need to see the body.”
He still looked at her, his face red in the neon light, giving him a sinister look. The same light made his gun, still pointed at her, look bloodied and dangerous. His expression was uncertain. I increased the power of the spell.
“We don’t need to see the body.”
“Yes we do,” Skinny said. Damn, I’d left him out of the spell.
“The police will be here soon,” Liesl said. “This is a country in the middle of a civil war. Gunfire in the capital should bring half the army down on you.”
I modulated the spell, even though in my weakened state the effort was about to make me pass out: fear and persuasion mixed.
“Listen,” Bushy said, “I know a little bit about meta. Your spell will eventually wear out and then we’ll kill you. And I know you can’t move and keep that spell on. So we’ll just wait. I don’t think we have to worry about the police.”
I wondered what he meant by that, but didn’t have time to think about it. The persuasion and fear spells weren’t working. I gathered what strength I had left, fingered my talisman, and shot flame at them. It arced across the street reflecting orange off the cobblestones and buildings, and splashed on the pavement in front of them. Damn, I didn’t put enough distance into it. The men jumped back from the flames and started looking for the source–that is, me.
Liesl took that opportunity to run.
She sprinted toward me and, passing, grabbed my arm.
“Thank you,” she breathed, pulling me along.
I mumbled a reply and decided not to tell her that hadn’t been my plan.
A little about S. Evan —
S. Evan Townsend is a writer living in central Washington State. After spending four years in the U.S. Army in the Military Intelligence branch, he returned to civilian life and college to earn a B.S. in Forest Resources from the University of Washington. In his spare time he enjoys reading, driving (sometimes on a racetrack), meeting people, and talking with friends. He is in a 12-step program for Starbucks addiction. Evan lives with his wife and two sons, aged 17 and 20, and has a 22-year old son attending the University of Washington in biology. He enjoys science fiction, fantasy, history, politics, cars, and travel.