Recently I was talking about the names of characters; what they mean to the character and how it’s possible that a character could grow into it or is born of it.
Yet what if a character has a name attached to them and it has next to no meaning, and/or just sounds relatively common? I’ve often sat there and stared at a name that I just typed in the heat of a moment and suddenly I’ve given birth to a new character. Of course a character is born and, like all humans, grows into their personality and character as you write their misadventures out over time. Although when you’re looking at this name, which is little more than a metaphorical fetus at this point, I often find myself lingering around the ideas of, firstly, “where the feth did you come from,” and “what am I to do with you?”
These could both be rolled into the question “who are you?” Which probably sounds more or less profound than you might think.
I find it helpful, before I start writing a character, to know something about them first. It helps me with roleplaying too. Only the minimal amount of information on them is really wanted at this point, but I see no real harm in fleshing them out moreso but then you run the risk of garnering more information than is either needed or will be used. A good example of this would be that if you were writing out a working planet’s day to day system, you wouldn’t detail the currency exchange system for that nation furthest to the south in the western continent.
If I know something about a character then I know how they’re going to react in situations and they become relatively more three dimensional than they otherwise would be. Then again, if they’re just popping their head around the corner or getting their leg shot off then clearly there’s no point in thinking out their background; there’s no point in giving them a small spotlight and then telling people that they come from a small island called Tignabruich and recently finished twelve years of study if all that they’ve been mentioned for is the dropping of plates in a kitchen and somebody just so happened to be around to witness it.
Having said that, there’s nothing to stop a character from exclusively evolving as you write. They could just react as you’d want them to or as naturally as it comes out of your fingertips. Nobody will actually know apart from you (or the umpteen people you might have told), and anybody who reads the character’s literary evolution won’t know that you did/didn’t plan out their progression.
For the characters themselves, I like to plan them out a little – only to the bare bones, as I’ve said. Then there are times where they spontaneously combust with character development, which I’m starting to think is a term that I should have used earlier in this entry. 😛