Who are you and how did you get in my head? – characters that surprise even the author

by | Oct 17, 2014

Last Updated:
Oct 17, 2014

“Damn,” Jared said as the last of his breath exited in awe. “I don’t think I’ve seen a city so beautiful even before the world went to shit. Do we have to blow it up?”

There is the perception out there that every character is a piece of the author or, perhaps, aspects of a friend or acquaintance of the author’s. It might come from the advice to “write what you know.” If you follow that, of course an author would write about people they know. After a mere five years of writing and three of self-publishing, I, frankly, think that is crap.

The faeries created by Brian Froud always have a way of popping off the canvas like a great character!

The faeries created by Brian Froud always have a way of popping off the canvas like a great character!

I’m not really sure where characters come from. Most pop into my head with attitudes, hangups, histories, and passions fully formed. Some of them I can relate to. That helps me with their stories. Some I might admire. And there are some I have a difficult time getting into their head because they think and react so differently from me, but their minds can snap into focus if I work on seeing the world from inside their skin and from their history. The jolt of delving into such a different personality tingles momentarily and then what they will do and say simply happens.

And then there are the ones that surprise me.

Every author must have a few. They are minds that are so unlike me or anyone I know, but yet I hear their voice so clearly. I really wonder where they come from. I don’t have to try to ‘channel’ them or even think about them. They simply are and they do and I’m often left struggling to catch up, understand, or not to laugh – which can slow down my writing. They make me happy I don’t write horror, as I’ve heard the awe and near fear of authors who’ve written something they really didn’t know their mind could create. Where do these ideas and characters come from?

Captain Jared Vries, who I quoted above, has become one of my favorite characters in my current WIP, Friends of my Enemy. He knows his limitations, but might not have pushed himself to his limits yet, has a smart mouth, and, well, just isn’t like anyone I know. I usually don’t know what he is going to do or say until I’m typing it, which is possibly more fun than reading his antics. He is military and complicated, irreverent in his remarks to equals, while commanding with his orders. I know him like a friend but have never met him or anyone like him.

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Sinika in the Rise of the Fifth Order trilogy is another such character too. Devious and intelligent, he laid plans chapters before I realized what he was up to, usually as his trap was springing. I was worried for awhile that he’d find a way to win and I’d have to rethink the entire ending of the series. He certainly did surprise me all the way to the last chapter, but I won’t say more on how things ended!

Another of Froud's... I could write a story about this one easily!

Another of Froud’s… I could write a story about this one easily!

“Sinika,” Oveehn said. “You have not put forth a candidate for this discussion. Neither you or High Priestess Timpada, you are the only two.”

Timpada shifted in her chair. “I can speak for myself. Ci’erra was my protege. I deeply regret her betrayal to the members of this Council. I do not feel compelled to put forth a new candidate. to replace what was my error.”

“Well spoken, High Priestess,” Sinika said. “And I do not feel a need to suggest anyone. I am more than willing to hear more of the candidates you propose.”

“You do not feel the need? Your tone states that you feel it a waste of time,” Kheten rejoined.

“I’m sure you misunderstand,” Pronius said.

“Not at all,” replied Sinika. “I do feel it a waste of time.” The air filled with angry hisses carried on power released in ire. Sinika smiled, casually relaxing his hands on the rounded arms of his chair. “Truly my friends, have we not spent seven days debating over one seat? And that is with only eleven voices, nine since High Priestess Timpada and I have excluded ourselves. I do not see what one more will add but to the din and more lost time.”

“I know your stance, High Priest,” Nahrhia growled at him. “You would reduce this Council to one.”

“One hardly makes a Council… but there would be a certain streamlining to the debate.”

I don’t have Sinika’s ability to see the world as a chessboard and counter moves far in advance (yes, I plot novels but most of the time it is characters like these who are making them up!). I certainly don’t have his easy self confidence to speak a truth so bluntly, unflinching of the ire, amused by it really.

So where do authors come up with characters? I’m curious, but not enough to analyze it deeply as if I’m afraid that uncovering the secret will dissolve the magic. For now, I’m more than content to simply meet these strangers who live in my head.

What are your theories on forming characters?


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Written by: Autumn

Autumn is a best selling indie author, conservationist, & world traveler with plans for many more adventures both real and fantastical! She is currently settled in the wilds of Maine with her small dragonish dog and husband, searching for a portal to another world.

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  1. halftangible

    My characters tend to start out as archetypes or cliches that i need for a particular event/scene. Then they get put into scenarios that that archetype/cliche is either inadequate for or boring to play through. So I add some other trait. And so on and so on.

    Granted, that’s a very simplified version of what I do, but it works for the most part.

    • halftangible

      (also, I don’t really consider a character a character until they come across a scenario that makes them act in a manner completely contrary to their former demeanor)

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