Characters That Develop Writers

I know I’ve read a hundred articles, blogs and comments about how writers create characters for their books, but it’s Friday and my mind has been rolled over gravel this week. I simply don’t see things like normal people. Granted, it might have nothing to do with a challenging seven days, it might be the norm for me, but for this particular experiment, let’s just pretend it’s unusual. 

Let me start with a few questions. First, have you ever really created a character? I mean seriously? From head to toe, heart to flesh? Or, have you gotten so far and the character goes into rebellion and insists he or she is something else. I envisioned Michael Becker, the main character in Blind in the Light, to be a smallish man with thinning hair. He said no. Later, in the second book, Carrying Heaven (unfinished), I wrote that he lost his right leg. Michael said oh hell no, it was his left leg and no matter how many times I read through it and correct it, I keep typing “left”. 

What does this tell me about Michael Becker? And more importantly, (for those of you in the psychiatric biz) what does this tell me about me? 

At any given time I, like every other writer I know, have more than fifteen unique and different characters inside my head. They come from various eras and various genres. Some are human, some are superhuman, some are supernatural. Many are affected by paranormal activities and/or awareness. Alicia (The Magnolia Men’s Club) is an unenthusiastic time traveler who started today and ended up in a 1905 erotic, Victorian male dominated world. Crudo Cushman (Cold in California) is a dead troll earning his pass through the pearly gates by managing a West Hollywood holding tank for other dead supernatural creatures. Luc and Gabe (Sympathy for the Devil) are slipping the bonds of time and dimension and exploring their influence on the history of American through our national pastime, Baseball. And by the way, Gabe is the Angel Gabriel and Luc is … yes … Lucifer himself. 

There are more. Characters, characters shouting and jostling each other inside my brain. Miribella Patients see auras. Don Carson is a soul eater. Angela Menendez is a spiritual healer. More and more of them keep coming too, shouting for my attention and telling me what they are, what they can do and what they look like. As the author, the only control I have is deciding which story they’ll be part of, and even with that, they all have their own idea as to how to react to the stimuli around them. It’s like running a nursery sometimes, I swear! 

Now for the big question … and you have to tell me truthfully. We all have a plot plan, we all know where we want our story to go. Cross your heart and hope to slip on a crack that breaks your protagonist’s back … tell the truth. Do you really control the plan? The outline? The strategic plot? Or, like me, do you start with a sound plan and discover that your characters have another idea all together? Ideas that strangely … always … improve the scene, plot or novel as a whole? Are we really the conductor of the symphony in our head? Are we the storytellers, or the typists?

About Deborah Riley-Magnus

Deborah Riley-Magnus is an author and an Author Success Coach. She has a twenty-seven year professional background in marketing, advertising, and public relations as a writer for print, television, and radio. She writes fiction and non-fiction. Since 2010, she had two novels released. In 2013 her nonfiction, Finding Author Success (Second Edition), and Cross Marketing Magic for Authors were released. Her newest book, Write Brain/Left Brain, focuses on bridging the gap between the creative writer and the marketing author. Deborah produces several pieces monthly for various websites and online publications. She writes an author industry blog and teaches online and live workshops as The Author Success Coach. She belongs to several writing and professional organizations. Deborah has lived on both the east and west coast of the United States and has traveled the country widely. She is a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and recently returned after living in Los Angeles, California for several years. View all posts by Deborah Riley-Magnus

8 responses to “Characters That Develop Writers

  • sulci

    Characters do ‘run’ us, rather than the other way around. But where do these characters originate from? They are parts of us of course, often those lesser voiced, lesser heard parts of us. The ones jostling for attention, but never seem to get heard above the din of our dominant voices. Until that is they get to take revenge in our fictional/phanatsy worlds.

    I don’t care what any writer says, nor what genre they write, all their characters are parts of themselves. Even if you write about a scene or a character you have witnessed in real life, the fact that it stuck in your memory, makes it part of your own experience. Why did it mean so much to you? How did it speak to you, so that you filed it away in your memory (to be later dusted off and employed in your work).

    For my part, I situate my main characters as far away from me as possible (most are women, most have jobs where I’ve never been employed, etc). This way I as the writer I am forced to travel out to meet them in my writing, to really force myself to imagine their voice and character. In such a way I learn about those parts of myself I don’t get much time being aware of. Because these characters have emanated from me and I must journey to discover exactly which bits of me they have arrived from.

    Hope this helps in some ways.

    • Deborah Riley-Magnus

      Wow sulchi, that’s fascinating. Leave it to you to really hit the nail on the head. I totally agree, every single character and their traits come from someplace inside all of us. But your goal, to create characters you must step out to meet and learn really tells the story of how far we writers will go to not only develop interesting characters, but to discover ourselves along the way.

  • Sharon Ferguson

    I think some of the best characters out there are ones that the author tried (sometimes desperately) to drop off in a village (Peregrin Took) or dismiss as someone in the background and they kept coming back stronger and sexier than before (Eric Northman) – I would LOVE for a character to take over like that sometimes…they end up being voices telling the story.

    • Deborah Riley-Magnus

      Hahaha, Sharon! Exactly. Someone somewhere created those characters (whether J.R.R. Tolkien or Charlain Harris)with so much zeal for life they simply won’t go away! That’s my goal, to create an original character that someone simply can’t forget.

  • warriorwriters

    That is a great question and one I don’t think anyone can answer. I am working on a new novel, and I wrote complete character backgrounds before I began. Then I started writing chapter one….and the little bastards hijacked the story and took off in a totally unplanned direction. My protagonist and mentor character totally changed…as if to say, “You are not the boss of me.”

    Great post!

  • Jackie

    oh yeah, happens to me all the time that it goes somewhere unexpected… for me, writing is definitely typing: I type like a madwoman to keep track of the video I see in my head. I have only a very sketchy idea of where I’d want it to head and I love to be surprised. It’s half the fun!

    I’m falling in love with my current main male character. I hope it helps.

  • Deborah Riley-Magnus

    Jackie, it’s definitely the ride of a lifetime! There are only two things I’m really sure of when I write anything. Where it will begin, and where it will end. Everything else seems to be dictated by my imaginary minions, LOL. Thank heaven for edits, at least those seem to tame the impulsive nature of my characters.

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