Creating a character is like creating a life. Part of the author's DNA (Drive, Nature and Attributes) end up in the story.
Orson Scott Card talks a lot about this in his workshops and books about writing. You write what you know.
More often than not if you are a female author your main character is going to be female and vise versa.
If you like history you may put your character in a historical setting. If you are a hopeless romantic chances are that your character will be too.
One of the challenges I have welcomed is writing characters who are different from me: male, non-human, different race or religion, different time period, etc. No matter what kind of character I create part of my own personal character or DNA comes through. It’s the law of creation that part of the creator’s genetics will be imbedded into the creation.
I hope I haven’t lost you. Stay with me.
In the MS I just finished one of my powerful characters (immortal, in fact) is afraid of spiders.
Hmmm. Yes. I hate spiders. I don’t know why. I’m so much bigger and could crush them with little any effort. I could grab it in tissue paper and flush it down the toilet, or if I don’t want to have physical contact with it I can spray it with deadly chemicals.
So why in the world am I afraid of spiders? Why would my character be afraid of spider?
Does she have a sensitivity to spider venom? Is there an ex-lover who can shape shift into a spider? Did she have a bad experience with a spider? Is she a neat-freak and she sees spiders and webs as being dirty, or does she just hate the feel of their long legs crawling across her skin?
One of the things I do that helps me connect with my characters is to dress like them, eat food that they would enjoy or attend events or adventures they would participate in. (Glorified role playing with a purpose.)
I have a character who is deathly afraid of water. Personally I love it! I am at home in the ocean and rivers and could have been a mermaid. If there’s water around I take my shoes off and put my feet in.
Here I have a conflict. I don’t know what its like to be afraid of water, so how can I describe the sheer terror my character feels?
One of the ways I connect is by trying to use something I can relate too.
Yes, I like water, but how would I feel if I was in the water surrounded by sharks? Terrified, anxious? I would desperately try to get to shore. Maybe in panic my arm and legs would flail in the water slowing me down. Would I start to gasp in cold water? Would the salt sting my eyes and disorient me?
One of the other things I could do is interview someone who is afraid of water.
When I talk with friends or acquaintances and they tell me about an event sometimes I wonder if I cross lines by getting too personal with my questions.
Why did your husband leave you? What was his past like? How long has this been going on for? How did that make you feel? What are your worst fears about the future now?
See how I can sound nosy and ask uncomfortable things? Honestly most people are pretty open if you show a genuine and caring interest.
A character bible and “interviewing” your character can be helpful too. I will talk more about these in a later post.