Like many other writers, I hold a fascination for the topic of inspiration, especially when it comes to developing characters. Some writers believe their character is a transient being who speaks to them and urges them to move to an entirely different state in order to record their story properly, while other writers believe that their characters belong entirely to them — that they are creations of their own will and will do whatever they are told to do. So, where do I stand on this topic?
Well, I certainly don’t believe a character is beholden to our pen as much as we’d like to believe they are. For me, a character arrives and makes their presence known in a number of ways. I’ve had characters arrive in dreams, in unconscious states, and in flashes of images. Then again, I’ve had characters arrive through voices and snippets of overheard dialogue. Usually, in my case, that’s where the work of discovering a character begins.
I begin to question the character and try to understand their motivation. Who are they? Why would they say this? What are they doing? What are their desires? And perhaps more importantly, why do they desire what they desire?
Each character, more often than not, arrives on my doorstep or in my consciousness in a different way, but the way I treat the character remains the same: with curiosity, compassion, and respect. I want to understand what they have to say without judgment. I want to know why they have chosen this moment to arrive and what it means to the story I am currently writing.
In this way, I am, as you might have guessed, a character-driven writer. I can’t begin a story without a character. In my stories, I develop the plot through the character’s motivations, desires, fears, and dreams. It is only through keeping an open ear that I am able to even begin writing a story. So, if I don’t know who the character I’m writing about is, well then I don’t have a story to write.
I need to walk in the character’s shoes. I need to truly understand them in order to even really begin.
So, what about you? How do you write your stories?
Do you believe characters run away with you or are they entirely under the control of your pen?
2 thoughts on “A Writer’s Fascination: Characters as Creation”
I definitely feel like my characters exist in a world of their own. I am the tool at play. As a fantasy writer, the layers of my world and characters unravel for me like pieces of a pre-existing puzzle. Often I will have ideas come to me in dreams, or I’ll have characters speak to me, or discover new magic that way. Sometimes I plan a plot in my head and yet become so emotionally compelled in a different direction that it feels like a betrayal of my characters to write it any other way. Sometimes I’ve felt forced to draw the blade through a beloved character’s neck simply for the necessary mark it leaves on the world snd story around them. Sometimes a convenient action is prevented by the mere stubbornness of personality.
To me, there is no more incredible feeling than when you discover a missing piece as though it was the inevitable answer all along, tying all the intricacies together. It doesn’t feel like solving the problem or making up a solution, it feels like discovering the truth, and that’s how I always know when my stories have come to life. ❤️
I always love reading your newsletters Ilyssa, keep up the inspiration!
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First of all, thank you so much for sharing your perspective in this space!
I feel the same way about the unfolding puzzle; that’s a great term to describe this unraveling process of discovering a world and a set of characters!
It is definitely difficult to put an end to the lives of our beloved characters but also can be rewarding in a writerly way too haha!
I love the feeling you describe here because I have experienced it myself, too. It’s almost a coalescing and that moment when everything truly makes sense and fits into that huge jigsaw puzzle!
Thanks for all your support and thanks for sharing your voice, too. 🥰