I’m on a new project, a return to dark horror, and by dark I mean really dark. It’s actually been giving me nightmares when I go to bed after writing.
But I hit a roadblock a few nights ago, after a big scene, because I wasn’t sure what my character would do.
I knew what he should do. I knew what I wanted him to do, but I wasn’t sure what he, as an independent entity, would do.
In other words, although I created him, dropped him in the hellscape he is currently trying to navigate and pretty much ruined his life, I barely know the guy.
I know his backstory. It pretty rough. It lead him to be the self destructive, morally lacking alcoholic he is today. But self destructive, morally lacking alcoholic is not who he is, at the core. And it doesn’t help me figure out what he would do at his first cross roads or how he’s going to lead me to the story’s end.
So I had to take time off the draft and get to know him. Take him out for coffee, climb into his brain, put him through numerous tests and questionnaires to determine just what makes Mr. Raff Winston tick. I had to ask him, flat out, “Hey Raff, I know you’ve been through some shit, but why did that lead you to become a self destructive, morally lacking alcoholic? And why don’t you have any desire to change that?”
It took a while, all night really because Raff isn’t much for opening up. But it all came out eventually and then the story started to flow again. The options narrowed and Raff’s fate started to come into focus.
It’s not enough to just stick a character on a page and force him through the maze of your plot. You need to be him, you need to live in his head while you are writing the story. The decisions you make for him are his decisions, not those of a removed writer-deity who is trying to manipulate the situation to go where they want it to go.
There are alot of great character building articles on my Pinterest writing board, but I recomend The 5 Absolute Dimensions of Character Personality for some very deep and direct insight into who your character is as well as a Myers-Briggs Test for a personality profile that presents a wide scope of individual types and what drives them.
How do you character build? What are some points you need to nail down to get to know your characters?