Question Wednesday: Where Do Characters Come From?

On January 2nd I put out a call for questions and many of you asked some great ones! Every Wednesday (until I run out of questions), I’ll be answering them here! There may be ones that are related, so I’ll answer multiple questions at once. You can always add a new questions to the queue by posting them as a comment here.

Laura Polito McEleney asked: How do your characters come to you? Do you develop them as you go along with the story or are they fully developed when you begin?

How a story starts for me really depends on the story. Sometimes it’s a scene that pops into my head or even just a line that grabs my attention (this never happens when I have paper handy either ARG). Sometimes it’s a character who speaks to me (Vivien from The Mistress Matchmaker series was like this for me).

Once I have an idea, I start trying to figure out if it can carry a story for 60-90,000 words. Also how that story fits into my current career plan. If something falls outside the erotic romance/historical romance/urban fantasy realm, it has to be super compelling for me to pursue it since I have deadlines and a career to build inside those realms.

And then, once I’ve figured out all that, I tend to build characters. I do a basic age/appearance/status section, then I move onto deeper elements. I try to establish at least 5 significant events that have led them to the point where the story begins. I also give them at least 5 significant people in their lives.

With that in hand, I can start plotting. How a character reacts will depend pretty heavily on the things that happened in their past, so I almost always do character before plot so that I already have my road map.

Of course, in the end the way I get to know my characters best is through my actual writing. I almost always learn something new within the story. Sometimes it’s something that changes things and makes me have to go back to layer it in more fully. That’s kind of exciting because even as a plotter, there are still mysteries to be found within my story and the characters I’ve created.

So if you’re a writer, what do you do to build characters? And as a reader, do you ever wonder what those unspoken facts of a character’s background are?