The Birth of Our Characters

There are many different paths on the writerly journey, and perhaps we can all learn from the successes and failures of other writers. This post begins a weekly feature where one of the Sisters asks a question on writing for all to answer.

We’d love to hear your answers, too. Please feel free to leave a link to your own blogs or websites with your comments.

This week’s question is by Jan Morrill.

How does a character come to you? Does it come as a dream? A voice in your head? What methods do you use to develop your character? 

RUTH: Where does any writer’s character come from? Real life? Imagination? The dark place lurking deep in the soul? Each writer conjures characters from various places.  I’m lucky in that I don’t consciously develop mine. Charles Ely from The Soldiers From the Mist, for example, was a ghost of a Civil War soldier who haunted my house. The Rook from The Rook and The Raven came to me in a dream two years before I wrote the book. Dixie Dandelion was me in a previous lifetime. Charlie, Roark, and Dixie tell me everything I need to know to flesh them out. All that is required from me is an open mind, silence and patience. Perhaps subconsciously that’s the way it works for every writer. But no matter the process, creating an unknown character from a snip of an idea is truly magical. Learn more about Ruth’s writing adventures at

PAM: My characters come to me through alchemy.


Observations, emotions, needs and desires are heated in a magic kettle, spiced with imagination, and released through my fingertips on the keyboard. Let me give you an example. The protagonist of Redneck Goddess is Georgia Barr, better known as Goo Goo.  She’s an amalgamation of every self-confident, intelligent, beautiful young woman I’ve ever met or observed. Starting with this group.

Forty years ago, at a company picnic I watched a group of young women, most of them less than ten years my junior, playing co-ed volleyball. Not once did any of those women appear to moderate one single aspect of themselves in order to fit more closely into a mold of femininity that I, on the other hand, found so constraining. Those women, along with the brilliant red hair of my childhood best friend, Sandra Caudle, became Goo Goo Barr.

Samantha Foster, the protagonists of Bigfoot Blues, is simply me as I exist in a parallel universe.

Characters develop a mind of their own almost from the first stroke of the keyboard. Go over there and do that, I think. And they come over here and do the exact opposite. Once they draw that first inky breath, I simply do my best to herd them toward the plot line and get out of their way.

LINDA:  I draw from interesting people I’ve known. I have a rich heritage of diverse personalities who have crossed my path. As my story develops, I think about the people I’ve known or know now and think about what they would do, how they would respond or react.

Another thing I do is look at pictures. I Google actors and actresses and look through hundreds of photos. Inevitably some speak to me by their expression. I just had that happen. A very minor character in my novel, Daphne, came alive when I saw her picture, I knew her right away and now she has earned a secondary character role in my next novel!

Read more about Linda’s writing journey at

CLAIRE:  To be honest, the first thing that comes to me on any novel I’m writing is the names of the cats. For example, in Santorini Sunset (May 2012, The Wild Rose Press,) the cats are Sherlock and Mycroft. Then, I figure out what type of person would use those names for their pets.

One of these days I hope to develop into a writer who knows her characters before she starts writing. At the moment, I start with a name and a profession or a particular situation and go from there. It makes writing the story interesting since I have no idea what’s going to happen, but it also results in writing more than necessary. I tend to let my characters run free and wild. Once I figure out how the story will end, sometimes I have to rein those pesky free-thinkers in and make them do what I want.

Three things have held true in all the books I’ve written. The support, humor and frustration of the best friend in all the books is based on my best friend, Pearl. The bitchy, horrible woman who gets killed off in every book is based on a supposed friend who betrayed me and scarred me to my very core. And the hero. The hero is always my husband, Kevin. I didn’t even realize that until a friend pointed it out. Then, it was so obvious it was embarrassing.

JAN: My characters in Broken Dolls are all tiny parts of me. I took an emotion, a thought, or a person who made an impact on me and developed characters. Sachi is the emotional child in me who was always told to behave, but who lets her feelings show, whether outwardly or through internalization. Nobu is the duty-bound part of me, who does what’s expected of him, and who represses all his feelings. Mama is a fictionalized version of my maternal grandmother, who I never really knew, though I did hear stories about her. Jubie was based on the beautiful, free-spirited black girl who lived across the street from me when I was growing up.

Since these characters are a part of me, they were often stubborn to tell me their secrets. Sometimes I actually traveled to places they would have lived, such as the internment camp at Rohwer. There, Sachi whispered a secret to me that changed the course of the book.

As you might guess, Nobu was the most stubborn, as he would not tell me anything he “shouldn’t” say. But, all it took to get him to open up was a few drinks over an interview at happy hour to expose his secrets, too.

Leave us a comment and let us know how you bring your characters to life!



5 thoughts on “The Birth of Our Characters

  1. I think I see my characters in my head as if they are playing roles in a movie. Then I just try to get that role down on paper. Until reading this post, I had never had to try and explain it before…that’s a tough one!

  2. Mine come from different sources but, recently, I was working on a portion of my WIP and a little blonde-headed curly top bounced out of the steerage onto the deck of my steamer and I had absolutely NO IDEA she was onboard until that moment. WOW! She certainly livened pu the place, though. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s