Learning! — Character Building (285)

In line with last week’s Learning! post where I constructed an example of a fantasy world’s fauna, today I’m going to talk about how I build characters specifically. I feel as though building an animal species is almost more similar to building a culture or country than it is to make a specific three dimensional character, simply because when one is building large things like a species or nation you deal with a lot of abstract conjecture rather than specific events and characteristics. In fact I find building characters the single most difficult thing when it comes to creating things from scratch, but obviously I’ve had to have made some headway over the years.

As with everything that involves creativity, I always use the foundation of a single good idea. Just like last week’s “crocodile bird” description, I always have something I want this character to do. For example, when making one of my most prevalent characters in Nacre Then’s lore and events, my starting point was “I want this guy to be single-handedly responsible for jeopardizing the safety of the entire planet.” No spoilers right now (though most people reading this would already know who that is), but that was actually the starting point for my entire universe itself.

But there are less dramatic starting points one can use. For example, another one of my character’s identity and background was centered around the fact that I never want the reader to know whether or not he’s a good guy or a bad guy. Or, even less dramatic, I wanted one female character to be the spitting image of her grandmother, and to aspire to follow in her footsteps.

So, once you have that idea, all you have to do is expand on it. Looking like a relative is probably due to chance, but aspiring to be like them? Why? You have to look at the elements of two things: both what makes sense for a character, and what you want in a book/story. A guy responsible for endangering this planet could immediately lead you to think its a dumb character, but that isn’t what I wanted. I wanted it to be an honest mistake.

The idea here is that you want to establish things that make sense and continuously expand on those ideas. Why would somebody want to be like their grandmother? Was she a hero? Did she invent something? Was she indoctrinated to think a certain way by the people around them (family or otherwise?)

These questions should bring you to other ideas like “is this grandmother a character in the story?” If not, why not? Death is obviously an easy choice, but if you go with that, then you have to ask yourself why her grandmother died. Did she ever know her grandmother? If she did know her grandmother, the answer to why she died is very important. After that, you can ask yourself what effect her death had on this girl.

If you ever run out of follow-up questions, ask yourself a list of things just to make sure you have character nailed down. The list can be as extensive as you want it to be (I’ve written character sheets nearly a dozen pages long), but it certainly doesn’t have to be. I myself don’t ever write any character sheets anymore because I absolutely hate them. But you should know things like “occupation, living conditions, family relationships and the character’s relationships to them, and especially their goals, both short term and long term.”

As far as naming characters go, its important to have a system down. For the characters in my universe, I have rules. Most people in Torreth have one name, and the last three or four letters in their name are considered their surname. For example, that character’s grandmother is named Allia, and her daughter’s name Amelia, and her daughter’s name is Caylia. Aside from having rules on how characters are named, name generators work really well, and google translate can also help. One of the most important characters, Senture, was named based off a google translation of “belt”. I think the actual word was something along the lines of “cincture”. Mostly though, naming is almost always least important of all of character building, but if that’s your starting point, it can still work. If the name is that important to you, ask yourself how they got their name and work from there.

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