How A Story Character Is Born

April 9, 2013
Have you ever wondered how a character is created? I often have conversations with my character before I introduce them to a story. This is usually how it goes:

Okay, let’s see…I need a story. But first I need a character worthy of my tale. Who shall I pick? Shall my character be a male or a female? Young or old? Meek or bold? A coward or a warrior? Should my character have a tragic backstory or a perfect life that gets interrupted by my nasty conflict?
I’ll make it a man…a young man named…Sebastian! After my favorite fictional character.
What shall his personality be like?
I want him to be…cool.
No, no. Not like that. That sounds too arrogant. Let’s warm him up a little bit.
“How’s it going?”
A little more casual…
Perfect. Now let’s give him physical traits. How about brown hair and blue eyes? Yes, I like that look. Tall and lanky finishes him off. Tall and lanky but not too bony and wiry. No freckles. That’d make him look too childish. Let’s let him wear a simple sweatshirt, jeans, and tennis shoes. Okay?
I want him to be comfortable with who he is. He needs to love being in his own skin. He needs to familiarize himself with his name first. Sebastian.
“My name’s Sebastian. What’s yours?”
He shouldn’t be asking such questions. I am the author and his creator and I would like to keep my identity a secret. He’s too nosy, isn’t he? Let’s make him indifferent to his position.
Oh, come now. We need him to care a little bit at least.
“Alright, fine. Whatever you say.”
That’s better. Now what if we made him a little bit mysterious? He could be like a book that’s never been read because they judge him by his cover. There’s more to him than meets the eye.
He shouldn’t be too unapproachable. I want people to have a natural attraction to him. He must have something special about him that draws special people to him. He needs a few close friends. He doesn’t care for them very much. He’s always in his own little world. He’s a dreamer.
Let’s make him curious. He is uncaring but that doesn’t mean his interest can’t be piqued.
“Who exactly are you?”
Again, with the nosiness. Is there any way to make a character who can be both curious and not nosy? I don’t think so. Alright, be as nosy as you like, Sebastian.
Hmmm…Sebastian. That name doesn’t seem to suit him anymore. Will he become confused if I change it? Speaking of confusion, I want him to be smart, a quick thinker, on his toes. He has to be able to smooth talk his way out of any situation. But let’s not make him overconfident.
Shall I rename him? Oh, why not. I’ll change his name to…James. Yes, I like that better than Sebastian. Got that, buddy? I changed your name.
“Yeah. Got it.”
Now, I want him to be honest. He can hide a secret pretty well but only when he needs to. He puts his trust in only a few people and those people value his trust greatly. Shows what a great guy he is, doesn’t it?
“Hey, I’m not responsible for –“
Yeah, yeah. Clam it, buddy. Save it for later. You’ll have plenty of reason to complain later, I promise.
Okay. Sidekicks?
“No way, man. I don’t need –“
Great. Let’s make him a guy too. We don’t want-
“Oi! I said I don’t want a sidekick!”
Oh, did you? Who’s in charge here, buddy, hm? I am. So quit whining.
Alright. I feel unusually kind so I will take your request into consideration.
“No sidekicks, then?”
I said I’ll take it into consideration. Let’s set that aside for later. Moving on! What’s your history? Who would you like to be? Are you the hero or the villain or just a victim?
“I’d like to be a –“
If you’re a hero, you save the world from total destruction and are awarded with a medal at the end of the story after defeating the villain.
“Maybe if –“
If you’re the villain, your backstory is very important. You’ll take pleasure in others’ misery and laugh like a wicked witch. Muahahahahaha! Like that. Can you do that? If you can’t then you can’t be the villain because all villains can laugh like deranged maniacs.
“If you would allow me to –“
Or would you like to be the lazy victim?
“Lazy? I-“
The victim doesn’t do anything. Come to think of it, the victim is kind of like a damsel in distress, you know? I’m sure you don’t want to be a princess locked away in a tower.
“Actually, I’d like-“
Good. You’re the hero.
So…it shouldn’t matter but…what ethnicity should you be?
“Ethnicity? You mean my race?”
Yeah. Do you want to be an elf or a dwarf or maybe some dragon mermaid hybrid?
“Can I just be a human, please?”
British. You’re from England. I knew it from the start. Any supernatural qualities?
“I like telepathy. I think it’d be fun reading other people’s m –“
Your eyes should change color every now and then. But why?
“Maybe it happens when I read people’s minds.”
Excellent. Good job, buddy. I think –
“Why don’t you just call me by my name?”
Do I look like your friend?
“You call me ‘buddy’.”
I’ll call you what a like, yeesh! If I want to call you buddy, I’ll call you buddy until you die. Speaking of which, you should be immortal.
I don’t know. Why not?
“I don’t want to have to live forever. I don’t want to see people I care about die.”
HA! You DO have feelings. So…that brings us back to your sidekick.
“NO! No sidekicks. PLEASE, no sidekicks. I’m fine on my own.”
Ah…so we’re a loner, huh? Fine. Have it your way. No friends for you.
“That’s not what I-“
Moving on! What…is your favorite color?
“Erm…does it matter?”
Yes, it does! Your favorite color reflects who you are. If you like blue (like me) you are calm and level headed and determined but can be easily distracted. If you like green, you are cool and kind. If you like black, you are secretive and mysterious. If you like white, you are indifferent and open. If you like pink, you are soft and are in touch with your feminine side. I could be totally wrong but that’s the way I interpret color preference.
“Well…if you say so. I like blue as well.”
Mhm…I thought as much. You need some kind of symbol that captures your essence without using words. Maybe an animal would work.
“I see myself as a brave lion or a hawk or a-“
I see you as a badger.
“What? A badger? Are you kidding?”
Nope. But on second thought…what about a snake?
“Ugh. They make me shudder.”
But you’re so slippery and cool. You’re a smooth talker, remember? Deceit is your thing!
“But I’m not a villain.”
You don’t have to be a villain to have your intentions questioned.
“What about a dog?”

Snow leopard.
Snow leopard. That’s your symbol.
So what are your interests?
“I don’t know.”
Reading, writing, long walks in the park, video games-
“Reading and writing.”
Reading and writing, eh? Alright. Show me what you can do.
Yes. I’m waiting.
“Alright. Let’s see…Floating silently in the sky, I asked once why they cry, they said to me with thunder and lightning, ‘It is not easy being frightening!’”
You like riddles, do you?
“Yes. Can you guess what that limerick was about?”
You know, James, I sense a high level of maturity in you. You know how to manipulate people. I like you.
“Why, thank you.”
Next time we speak, you shall be lost within my twisted fairytale.
“But you’ll help me through, right?”
My silly dear, you will have no memory of me. You might not even have the same name.
Farewell, James.

Join the Discussion

This article has 19 comments. Post your own now!

nelehjr This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Aug. 19, 2013 at 9:33 pm
Haha! I love it! Gah! Your peice distracted me from the email I need to write! Good job! Five stars!
Samurai-Baggins replied...
Aug. 20, 2013 at 6:35 pm
Oh, no! I'm so sorry I distracted you, fellow writer! And thanks for the feedback!
nelehjr This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Aug. 22, 2013 at 7:59 pm
Psh! It was an email in which I was trying to politely state I do not think I'll be attending college! I didn't really want to write it and I needed time to gather my thoughts! I meant your words distracting me as a complement ;) ...Yeah I'm terrible at complements anyway!
Samurai-Baggins replied...
Aug. 23, 2013 at 4:13 pm
:) "Not attending college"? Dude, are you done with high school already? If you are, you're lucky.
nelehjr This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Aug. 23, 2013 at 9:40 pm
Not quite yet but almost. You?
Samurai-Baggins replied...
Aug. 24, 2013 at 10:21 am
I am smack in the middle of it. Just two and a half more years then I'm off to college! I hope...XD
nelehjr This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Aug. 24, 2013 at 6:33 pm
Best of luck to you! :)
Samurai-Baggins replied...
Aug. 25, 2013 at 1:16 pm
I wish the same for you! By the you know about "Hetalia"? *narrows eyes suspiciously*
nelehjr This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Aug. 25, 2013 at 11:25 pm
Oh honey, my very best freinds are mad about that show! Can't honestly say I like it much...I saw one episode with a bunch of shirtless cat boys. I like cats and I like boys...But that was a little much.
Samurai-Baggins replied...
Aug. 26, 2013 at 4:01 pm
Shirtless cat boys? Erm...I wonder if we're talking about the same show? Are the people countries?
nelehjr This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Aug. 27, 2013 at 7:03 pm
Yep. I'm not very big on anime anyhow... :/
Samurai-Baggins replied...
Aug. 28, 2013 at 3:49 pm
Aw, that's sad. I love anime! I've written a few fanfiction articles.
Samurai-Baggins replied...
Aug. 28, 2013 at 3:50 pm
Have you played "Ib"?
nelehjr This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Aug. 29, 2013 at 10:16 pm
IB? Ne'er even 'eard o' it. :/
Samurai-Baggins replied...
Aug. 30, 2013 at 4:24 pm
Aw, never mind. It's a game in which you're trapped in a scary art gallery with some other characters. It's an RPG (role playing game).
TanazMasaba This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Aug. 19, 2013 at 4:12 am
Oh my god, this was so much fun! I love the simplicity and the uniqueness of the idea and the way you wrote it is so much fun cause it kinda reflects a bit of your own personality as well as showing what happens to writers when they are brainstorming about a character. :P
Samurai-Baggins replied...
Aug. 19, 2013 at 3:53 pm
Thank you very much for your compliment! I am greatly honored. I suppose James does reflect some of my own personality quirks. I can never create a character that is completely different from me. A little bit of myself always leaks into them!
SaphiraBrightscales This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Apr. 24, 2013 at 4:56 am
Oh That sure was fun! Blue is my favourite colour too! And "JAmes" OH! That is my favouritte name! I like this article a lot! Enjoyed reading THAT much! LOve, Saphira.
BrandybuckTook replied...
Apr. 24, 2013 at 7:24 pm
Thanks! I had fun writing it! James is an odd character but I must say that I am even stranger! I often have little chats with my characters every now and then. You could say they're voices in my head sometimes. Don't worry. I'm not crazy! Sincerely, BrandybuckTook
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