Do You Want to Build…
Egad. Not that song. But hold on — I’m not here to talk about Frozen. I’m here to talk about building a new character from the ground up, similar to building a snowman. It’s also an appropriate song for this time of the year and I hope it will be stuck in your head as it is in mine.
A snowman takes hands to build. You mold snow to create a body. You add little features — a scarf. Stick arms. A carrot nose. Button eyes and mouth. The operative word here being create. It takes a single thought and then someone to carry that thought through.
It’s the same for creating a character. You’re starting from the ground, molding not just their physical characteristics, but the other pieces that make up who they are. It’s your own two hands, your own mind, that will bring life to a single thought.
For the record, I am by no means an expert in creating characters. I am merely here to share my process.
An idea. Like all things, a character is born from an idea. My idea usually stems from a single personality trait. That trait can be something like “funny” or “brave.” It’s a handful of snow that will begin the building blocks for a new character.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t see the character — see their physical appearance — until I have a name. A name can tell so much. Once I have a trait, I find a name that suits it. I spend a day or five browsing baby name websites, searching and searching for a name that is just right; for something to click. And then there’s that eureka moment when one does and suddenly your little snowball is a lot bigger.
Each piece of a snowman is a supporting part of the body. Without the first two parts, there would be no head. No torso to hold the arms. No place to create the face or set the hat.
Characters are meant to have layers. They’re meant to be more than just one idea or one trait. Once I have an image, I’m able to see more of their layers. They’re brave on the outside, they carry a sense of confidence and power, but inside it’s something they have to consciously put forth. Inside they have their own insecurities, their own fears, their own anxieties, dreams, memories, regrets, faults, etcetera.
As a creator, it’s up to us to mold those layers.
Most of those layers will not come right away. It will come from writing. You’ll learn about your character as you write them. You’ll develop their voice, and their voice will only grow the more layers are tacked on. You’ll learn things about them you didn’t know. Things about their past. What makes them who they are in the present. The events that will shape their future self.
The creative process for a character is different for everyone. If you want to try the above, you don’t have to do it in any particular order. It’s what works for me, and I’m sure you have a process that works for you. Some people fill out templates and figure out background information before they even begin writing. Others have a basic idea and pants the rest.
But we all start off with one snowball. And at first, our character will look like the snowman depicted. Small. Empty. Distorted.
But with time and patience, with more snow tapped on, a character will grow and expand into the snowman that you want it to be.
Or you toss it into the blender and it comes out looking just as small, empty, and distorted — but that’s another process of character development. You have to strip your character down.
You have to break them down to build them up.
Originally published on my blog.