When I first started writing, I wasn’t terribly concerned with characters. I focused on plot and the evolution of the story.
As I’ve grown as a writer, the importance of characters has become more and more apparent. I’ve broadened my horizon by reading books that focus heavily on the characters rather than on the plot and I’ve “met” characters that were so well-designed that I couldn’t help but like them.
My process for developing characters has developed accordingly, from 1-dimensional characters meant to fill a specific role, to something larger.
For me, the character building process starts for me when I come across a role that needs something more than a stand-in character. It is typically the role and how it interacts with the main characters that determine where I go with my character creation. Does this character need to be an ally to the POV character, or do I need to make this a hostile character for the main character?
Once I have a general idea for what role the character needs to fill, I work from there. Say the character I’ve brought on board is going to be a hostile equal of the main character, whose only role is to frustrate the POV character and make his/her job more difficult. With that framework in mind, I would delve into why this character is hostile toward the POV character. Is this character just an overall unpleasant individual, or is there some history between the two characters that makes them natural enemies?
With the character’s motivations in place, I move onto specific personality traits and ticks. Does this hostile and jealous military commander constantly oppose his fellow officer in an obvious fashion, by countering his every argument; or does he do his damage in a more subtle way, like choosing not to pass on key information and orders that cause his men to take a different path than intended?
Appearance is typically the second-to-last aspect of a character that I develop, and is usually random within the people-group that I’ve placed him or her in. For my Griffins & Gunpowder universe, the nation of Ansgar is primarily homogeneous but there are a few areas that have inter-married with neighboring people groups and are therefore more likely to have different hair and eye colors.
The character’s voice comes last and is a result of the different elements that have come together in that character’s creation. Is this character educated or not? Is sarcasm a part of his/her arsenal? Are there any quirks from this character’s region of origin that can be worked into their mannerisms and voice?
Something about my character Raedan that I haven’t really had a chance to delve into yet in the novels, is that he always wanted to be a diplomat; his brother’s representative at court. This motivation caused him to pay great attention to his father’s political machinations and maneuvering. When a major life event changed his course, Raedan reluctantly accepted his new path, but continued to watch his father (who was considered one of the most masterful politicians and nobles of his generation) even as he (Raedan) grew into the man that he would become.
The desire to follow in his father’s footsteps was something that I developed in Raedan early on and shaped what I eventually did with him as the plot for the Ansgari Rebellion series developed. It has shaped this character in a way that I hadn’t initially expected and has caused some plot shifts that I couldn’t have seen coming.
All because of the root desire that I created for this character.