Meeting your character for the first time

Posted: August 24, 2011 in Writing
Tags: ,

I was just killing time on the internet, searching for images for a book cover when I saw her.  She’d been lurking in my peripheral vision for the last couple of years but then all of a sudden she was right there, standing right before me.  She’s a bit taller than I imagined and so much more striking than I would have ever guessed.  The question is: now that I have seen her will she ever be the same?

I’m a novice writer you see, so when I started to write my main character I sought help from a wide range of teach-yourself-to-write books.  You know the type, they said things like:

Why not write a potted biography of each character?  – Do what? That’s all very well and good if you’ve got the time but I’m writing a book you know, when am I supposed to do fancy things like that?

Well, they said, how about interviewing them? You never know they might give you some really witty answers. It’ll be a fun learning experience for both of you.  –  Yeah right! Who do you think I am? Piers Morgan? I’m too busy trying to get my character to walk across the kitchen and open the fridge without them, me and my readers dying of boredom on the on the way.

Anyway I ignored all that advice and I just carried on writing instead, which I suppose was a good thing because up until now my character has grown up nicely.  The thing is though, I only had a vague idea of what she looked like, but I do now and its causing me all sorts of worries, things like: Is the life I plotted out for her going to fit her image? Does her name fit her face? In some ways I wish I’d never seen her.

  1. Elli Writes says:

    When it comes to creating characters, I think every writer has to find their own method. Like life, there’s just no one set formula. What works for some, may not work for others and vice versa.

    But I do think there’s wisdom in taking the time to explore your characters. Few writers would tell you they simply picked up a pen (or opened a word document) and started writing an epic tale. Most books involve planning, mapping, brainstorming. And characters being the essence of your story, it’s good to familiarize yourself with them.

    I was the same way in the fact that simply “interviewing” or writing a biography just didn’t cut it for me. Instead, I had a friend introduce me to roleplaying, which really is just co-authorship of a continuing story. My first characters developed from simply having the opportunity to write, and write, and write from their perspective.

    Although its been years since I’ve tried the roleplay method, I still develop characters through the simple of act writing about them. The more you “use” them, the more you learn. Sounds to me like you’re doing just that. 🙂

    If I were you, I’d just keep writing, and if the name or the image doesn’t fit, don’t be afraid to make some changes. That’s part of the fun in creativity. The first product doesn’t have to be the final one.

  2. perrybond says:

    Hi Phil.
    This is what I did; I montaged a few pictures that I felt had the essence of my character.
    I just used google and a free app. called


  3. louisesor says:

    These are great ideas I haven’t needed to ponder too much before now.
    But with a bit of writer’s block recently, I have been changing character’s names and writing out a lot of back story.
    i get most of my inspiration working out on my ellipse> the extra oxygen to my brain gives me all kinds of ideas, and I always have a pen and paper to jot them down.
    I think for me, it’s almost time to have pictures of people with my character’s names under them to help keep them sharp in my mind.
    Thanks for sharing, everyone.
    Great blog, Phil. : )

  4. jfieldsjr says:

    Hi Phil,

    I loved this post because you thought the exact same thing I did! Write a Biography? Sheesh! I once had an editor tell me “We should know everything about your main character down to what flavor toothpaste they use.” That, combined with my near publication that didn’t happen after rewrites, was enough to scare me off of writing for a long time. I had read so many books I thought I liked my writing but just didn’t have what it took for anybody else to like it. When I got back into writing a few months ago something clicked and I found my style of backstory. I write the book or story and as I go I learn about the characters. Most of this is internal. In the rewrite I find places for me to put their backstory, sometimes its a lot, sometimes its a little. I based this style on life. At what moments do I reflect back on my history? It’s always when there is trigger – something I see or hear or do that causes me to remember. Or, something comes up in conversation and a little bit of who I am spills out. Once I started doing the same for my characters it was much less daunting. My character Antonio has such a rich, exciting backstory its a book unto itself. I love writing about him knowing what I know, yet the reader only gets a little at a time when it comes up, just like they would in real life.

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