Characters can without a doubt, make or break a piece of fiction: they are the beating heart of a story. I know from my own experience as a reader that it doesn’t matter how good a concept the story has, or how well plotted it is, if the characters are flat and lifeless. Readers need to care about characters and feel invested in them in order to engage with the story, which is why creating characters can be such a difficult part of writing.
So I thought I’d do a quick discussion post about creating characters, and I want to know how other writers go about populating their stories with interesting, relatable and hopefully likeable characters.
There seems to be two schools of thought on how to come up with characters, just as there are for how to come up with story ideas. The classic ‘plotters’ and ‘pantsers’ theory can be applied here, with some writers creating detailed character portraits before they even begin writing, whilst others start writing and let the characters develop naturally.
Personally, I’m the latter. I tend to come up with a story idea and a general idea for a character (as in, age, gender…and that’s about it!) and just start writing, although this tends to have pretty mixed results. Sometimes I’ll read back my latest story and find vivid characters full of life, but more often than not I find vague, wishy-washy people with no distinct identity. And that’s so disappointing!
So I’d love to know how other writers come up with their characters, and what they feel gives the best results. Do you find writing some kind of character profile helpful, or do you prefer to just write the story and see how the characters develop? And have you ever tried the opposite approach?