When starting a new story and working on characters to populate it, I sometimes think of Frankenstein.
That’s because as a writer I have to grow and develop my characters. Not sew them together out of a bunch of dead bodies, but develop creations with thoughts, dreams, fears, weaknesses and strengths. Quirks and qualities. How will they react to conflict, love, loneliness or whatever situation in which I place them.
I start with a character profile where I can list almost everything from their favorite music to their background to what they want and need. Not all details will end up in the story, but I will know where the characters came from, where they are going and how they changed getting there. You’ll find many good templates for character profiles online.
Writing 101 tells us that characters should have an external goal and internal one. Take Clarissa Starling from “Silence of the Lambs.” Her outside conflict is finding Buffalo Bill. Her internal one is stopping the nightmares and the screaming of the lambs from an earlier trauma. Captain Ahab in “Moby Dick” must kill the white whale, but also face his own demons.
I minored in psychology in college, so motivation of my character is very important to me. The protagonist in my novel, “The Weeping Woman” is a detective who is promiscuous not because she is a nymphomaniac. It is because sex is the only way she can maintain control after growing up in an environment where she had no control. Not all characters may have motivations and just be monsters, but they will probably be the villain and catalyst for the story, not the main character.
Like Dr. Victor Frankenstein, writers need a spark to bring their creations alive. Victor used electricity and chemicals. You will use motivations, dialogue, backstory, conflict and more to start your character breathing. If you succeed, then you also can shout, “It’s alive! It’s alive.”
Patricia Santos Marcantonio