Creating a character from scratch?

Looking back, after two published novels, a collection of shorts and a few screenplays stashed in the drawer, I’m not sure if I’ve ever created one of my fictional characters from scratch.

In fact, each of the characters that I’ve placed in my stories was conceived using the characteristics from people I know, or people I’ve briefly interacted with or more often than not, myself.

Even for those who think they have created a character from the bottom up, I bet if they really thought long and hard about it, they’d discover that their creation resembles someone a lot closer to home than the fictional town or planet that the narrative is set.

One of my favorite characters so far, who is by no means likeable, is Jason Dorris from my contemporary crime fiction novel, Get Clean.

Jason is a straight up asshole and has only one person in his life that he wouldn’t push past to get out of a burning building, and she happens to be the woman he wants to get in the sack.

He is selfish, arrogant, manipulative, violent and devious. Not nice traits in anyone, and surely if these were the characteristics of ‘a friend’ then I’d probably do well to avoid him totally. But Jason isn’t a carbon copy of someone I know or once knew. He is the worst of a few of the people in my life, me included. He is the collection of negativity that makes a good ‘bad guy’.

When I was younger, and had a different view on life, I knew and engaged with people who sold drugs, and people who took drugs. I knew people who would fight someone for supporting the wrong football team. I knew thieves. I knew people who would chat up the girlfriend of a ‘mate’ behind their back, with no concern of the possible consequence. I knew people who would go to prison for three months to a few years and come out and gloat about it.

Thankfully times have changed; I have matured and seen the error of my ways, and the ways of many people who I have now turned my back on. But, also thankfully, I have retained the memories of those dangerous times.

Importantly for a crime writer, I have firsthand knowledge of how certain aspects of the bad life go down, and this really helps when I’m ‘creating’ the villain of a piece. It would be mad not to use past experiences to add to the believability of my characters and storylines.

Contrarily, I hope that we have all been loved at least once in our lives, and the positives should equally be pulled from these times and places and faces and molded into a hero, heroine or love interest.

The above points are just for starters, because as we well know, nobody is just nice, and not many are completely bad. Mixing the good and bad traits of people you know
or knew and creating a new character altogether is where the fun really begins.

That girl you thought that loved you unconditionally, was she really faithful? Did you trust every word she said to be true? Why did she stay in touch with the guy who treated her badly in a previous relationship?

And that friend of yours, the one you’ve known for most of your life and who had your back when trouble started, why was his car spotted just down the road when your house got robbed? Was that really just a coincidence?

Taking a good character and giving them a flaw is what makes them believable and interesting, and that’s the stuff that good books are made from.

Ciao for now…

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4 thoughts on “Creating a character from scratch?

    1. I think it’s healthy to put yourself in the villains of your work, almost a therapy in the way that at least you are acting out your anger somewhere instead of bottling it up!

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