by Sorchia DuBois
I wish I could say I have an organized method for developing characters—something I can lay out like a lesson plan and present in a workshop. Sadly, this is not the case.
The characters I enjoy the most are stitched together bits of real people and fictional characters, all molded together in a Frankenstein-like process. Like Dr. Frankenstein, I am not always happy with the result. Sometimes my creations turn on me. But sometimes the new character grows beyond my wildest dreams.
Let me take you through the genesis of one character.
Way back in the long ago, I watched a movie—I watch a lot of movies. Near the end of this particular gritty drama, a pivotal scene takes place on a ferryboat. The main characters board the ferry and things are about to get real. The camera pauses on a beautiful Chinese Girl sitting quietly nearby. She wears a conservative school uniform and is a classic Oriental beauty. I worry she may become collateral damage because that’s the kind of movie this is.
Long story short—just as the bad guys are about to escape without their just come-uppance, Chinese Girl pulls out a .45, flashes her FBI badge, and says in an extreme Texas drawl, “all ya’ll are under arrest.”
This wonderful play on stereotypical perceptions stuck with me. When I needed a sidekick for my protagonist, I remembered Chinese Girl from that movie and half of my work was complete. Zhu Morgan would be a wonderful mish-mash of the traditional and the unexpected.
She became a combination of Chinese Girl from that movie; Amy Tan and Amy Tan’s Tiger mother; Mary, the lady who runs the Chinese restaurant in my town; and O-Ren Ishii, Lucy Lui’s character in Kill Bill Volume 1—I told you I watch a lot of movies.
She’s a modern girl with the instincts of a Ninja but the real-life practicality of a Midwesterner. She loves curly fries and sweet tea and she desperately wants to see a real ghost—or anything supernatural—but she never has. She is fiercely loyal to her best friend and she admires nicely tanned young men—maybe a little too much. My readers loved this stitched together character and I’m giving her an entire POV section in Book 3 in my Zoraida Grey series.
Stitching together personality traits creates unique characters and keeps me grounded. When I am stumped for a reaction from a character, I channel those inspiration characters.
Of course stitching personality traits together is only one part of creating a memorable character. Once you have a personality, the next essential item is motivation. What does this character want and, given the basted-together personality, how will he/she go about getting it?
Everyone in a story wants something. Even the waiter (who may be a compilation of two to ten servers) wants to get through the day without yelling at a customer and losing his job. My protagonist and her obsession with clean cutlery can put him to the test and we have a little added conflict.
One of the most important motives in any story is that of the antagonist. Suture together motives from one or more real-life criminals or acquaintances, and you have a nicely rounded character. The best antagonists, in my opinion, are those I can feel a little sorry for. He feels backed into a corner and justified in the measures he takes. But, of course, he’s a little nuts, too, because we’re all a little nuts.
Frankenstein characters and their stitched-together personalities and motivations keep your characters fresh and new. The combinations are endless.
So let’s play a game. What kind of monsters can we make? In the comments, list three things that you can chop from a real or fictional person. 1—An annoying quirk from your significant other. 2—an endearing quality from your best friend. 3—A hidden desire from anywhere. Give your creation a name and Voila!
Sorchia DuBois Bio
Award-winning author Sorchia Dubois lives in the piney forest of the Missouri Ozarks with seven cats, two fish, one dog, and one husband. She enjoys a wee splash of single-malt Scotch from time to time and she spends a number of hours each day tapping out paranormal romance, Gothic murder, and Scottish thrillers. A proud member of the Ross clan, Sorchia incorporates all things Celtic (especially Scottish) into her works. She can often be found at Scottish festivals watching kilted men toss large objects for no apparent reason. Her stories blend legends, magic, mystery, romance, and adventure into enchanted Celtic knots. Halloween is her favorite time of year (she starts decorating in August and doesn’t take it down until February) and her characters tend to be mouthy, stubborn, and a bit foolhardy. Nothing makes her happier than long conversations in the evening, trips to interesting places, and writing until the wee hours of the morning. Well, chocolate cake makes her pretty happy, too.