Some thoughts on characters

11/05/2014 21:04

News first: I’ve passed by six Green Sky stories on to my editor/publisher for reading – she’s already given me thoughts on Green Sky (can someone remind me to do a post on them?) but I’ll get thoughts on the rest back in a few weeks – scary!


So, characters. This came about because I was talking to a friend today who has problems writing characters: he has the world, but struggles to put people into it. Although my advice earlier wasn’t quite as coherent, I’ve had time to think, and here’s my list of things I can think of that could help:

– Write someone real. Pick a scenario, and drop them into it: pick a friend, put them in a box, and see what they do. Our variation was “what would happen if X found themselves locked in a house?” Answers included have an argument, hide in a corner, decide on a sensible course of action then do the opposite, and smash a window – any of which would make a good story!

– Write fanfiction. The characters and the world are already there: pick a side character, and write their voice and their story.

– Write yourself. If you’re not sure your life is exciting enough, write something you want to happen – write that date with your crush, write the journey you want to make, write that day you want to have. Write yourself as the hero, write yourself as perfect, write what you really want to say and do even if you’d never really do it. The important thing isn’t writing a good story or an exciting story or even a story that you’d show to anyone else. The important thing is to be writing.

– Write a scenario. For example…a deserted campsite. Where is it? Why is it deserted? If there’s dead bodies all over the place, why? And then drop a character into it: if I suddenly walked out of the woods and into this campsite, what would I do? What would [pick random action hero] do? What would [film character] do? What would you do?


And this got me thinking: how do I write characters? I tend to have two methods. The first is to start with the character, usually based (vaguely) on a real person. The second is to start with a snapshot, an image, and then work who the character is from there. 

I admit, I find it hard to use real people: I don’t know exactly what they’d do or say or think, no matter how well I know someone. My friend also argued that he didn’t like the idea of manipulating someone, even in his mind. However, if you’re not happy making up characters, use someone real at least to start with. They will change and mutate based on your story: I keep an image of someone in my mind, even if I don’t conciously try to write them – they somehow come through, and the voice somehow works (don’t ask me exactly how), but I don’t aim to write the person themselves. And then I drop them into my world, and see what they do! In Catter’s case, he fell in love; in another case, my character killed people. Both are in-character – if extreme – for the person they were based on.

Writing a scenario is closer to the last option on the list above, except I usually have a person already involved. Desert Sands is a case in point: my starting image for the story was of someone, running through the desert. So who are they? Why are they there? What are the running from, or for? Which world is it? Where do they fit in to the rest of my plot and storylines? I admit I have the luxury of already having a world and plot up and running, but the snapshot image is as good a story-starter as any other.


I’m not sure how coherent the above is. Thinking about how I write, and how to help other people write, isn’t really something I have done much until recently! It tends to make my brain hurt…

Author: kate

Kate Coe is an editor, book reviewer and writer of fiction & fantasy. She writes the sparkpunk GreenSky series and blogs at When she's not working, she fills her spare time in between writing with web design, gaming, geeky cross-stitch and DIY (which may or may not involve destroying things). She also reads far fewer books that she would like to, but possibly more than she really has time for.