Monday, June 22, 2009

How do you invent interesting characters?

I admit, I struggle with this one. You've heard me say before, this is the area of my writing that I have to work on the hardest.

Come up with an interesting plot? No problem. Weave in some cool technology? Got it covered. Layer it with deep characters? ... umm, well... I try.

My second (as yet unpublished) novel had a character that spent a lot of time trying to make real. His name is Badar Baqai.

This is the name of someone I knew a long time ago, and I'm sure he won't mind me using his name. If not, well I can always change it.

Badar was born in the US to a Saudi princess who had an affair with a African-American soldier during the first Gulf War (future book?) . His aunt is acting as his mother, her husband as his father. Badar knows nothing of this until very late in the book, and it provides an interesting plot arc. Part of what happens is that he is coerced into doing something to find out the truth about his past.

Badar is a professional gamer. He has made millions of dollars playing games on the video game circuit. He isn't just satisfied with beating his opponent, he has to dominate them, humiliate them, using any means necessary. He will stop at nothing, even cheating, to win.

He was contracted by the US military to virtually command an elite strike team using an interface that closely resembles the video games he has been playing. These soldiers have head gear similar to the those in the picture at the right. They receive orders as to where to go, what to do, through this interface.

It's kind of like Enders Game, in that, when Badar plays the game, real soldiers are carrying out orders. But unlike Enders Game, both Badar and the soldiers knows that this is the case.

Would I associate with Badar if he was a real person that I worked with? Probably not. He has his good side, but he's just too competitive. I would always feel that I was competing with him, and Badar has to win.

It took me a long time to deepen this character. I knew he was going to be a professional gamer. I knew he wanted to win, but the other details came over time as I tried to think of other interesting parts of his background.

Where do you get your characters from? How do you make them real?


  1. I piece my characters together through people I know or have heard of. They are never just one person, but a mixture of what seems to work for the story world.

  2. Where do I get my characters? That's tough. Some have literally shown up in dreams, or daydreams and just invited themselves in. Others I've been inspired to articulate by people I know. As for making them real. I try to treat them real as I write them. I try to focus on what really makes them, them. I have six main characters in my current wip, and they're all vastly different. Yet they compliment each other, which is why they're together.

    The hardest one to write is my favorite. He's bad, utterly baby-killing bad. And yet, he's on the good guys side. Only he's got no problem with killing the people fighting alongside him if they're more useful dead. He's been created simply to be the most violent, evil thing out there. He's been brutalized and conditioned. But given the chance to change his ways, he wouldn't, because the truth is that he would have been the way he is, even if he hadn't been mistreated. And he's fine with that.

  3. I, too, am a plot-driven writer. So far my characters haven't gotten very good reviews, so I'm reading "How to Write Christian Fiction" by Jeff Gerke. He's a plot-driven writer/editor/publisher of speculative Christian fiction and his techniques are helping me SO much!

  4. Normally, I start with character, and if the character seems compelling, I allow them to tell me the story.

  5. I've forgotten who was talking about it--I think it was on a DVD--but someone was talking about making all of their characters paradoxes. Characters such as the cat lover who is allergic to cats, a blind painter or a hydrophobic life guard. By giving a character such strongly conflicting traits, we aren't certain how he will respond to various situations, making the character and thus the plot more interesting.

  6. The character and the situation sounds interesting to me. I'm left wondering who the opposition is though. Ender has so many opponents: his brother, boys at the school, and, of course, the military leaders that chose him. Since much of the appeal of Ender's story comes from the POV of the military/school leaders I'm left wondering where the conflict between the hero and the military he works for is. Is he in conflict with them?

    Anyway, these questions get to how I develop characters. There's the character, an immediate impression, and then there's some questions.

    Question #1: Goal/problem.
    Question #2: setting/culture
    Question #3: opposition to goal.

    One more thought on Ender. It's beena awhile since I have read that story, but it was memorable. Seems like he battled a hierarchy of enemies that he both relied on and hated. They were a part of his world that he could not escape. As far as the hierarchy goes, it went from brother to brother battles, to boy to bully battles, to up and comer to established leader battles, and of course battles with the aliens (bigger than life stuff). So many battles. He even battles with himself and the ethics of his choices. So, when we develop characters I think that we have to remember these great characters. Remembering helps, discussing is even better because it makes us more cognizant of character dynamics.

  7. For the sake of being clear, the question in paragraph one of the comment I just left was about the hero in your story, not Ender. (I hate pronoun confusion. So easy to do.)

    "I'm left wondering where the conflict between the hero [in your story] and the military he works for is. Is he in conflict with them?"

  8. Dave, the book opens with the protagonist, Mack, a strike team sergeant, with a gun to Badar's head poised to kill him. Badar is accused of killing Mack's team in an operation gone bad. Mack accuses Badar of issuing bogus orders that exposes the hidden operation, and lead to the deaths of the team. Did Badar do it? If not, who did? and why?


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