Writing: Imagining Characters

How do you imagine your characters?  What train of thought or general thought process do you go through when coming up with characters for a story?

I have a few processes, but after coming up with a brand new attribute for the main character of one of my stories, I realized that a major part of my process is actually my love of other books, movies and shows.

Yeah, sounds kind of weird.  What I mean to say, though, is that I have a tendency to imagine characters in a certain scenario, then use many of those attributes for a character in a completely different story.

So, back to my love of movies, shows, and books.  Most people like to put themselves in the shoes of the main character.  I, however, am a little different.  I don’t want to be someone else’s made up character in a story, I want to be my own.  I like to be next to my favorite character in a story, helping them out and hanging out with them, etc.  Again, not as a character created by a writer, but as a character of my own creation.

For example, while watching Avatar: the Last Airbender, I imagined myself as a member of the fire nation navy and old rival of Prince Zuko, but one who was taught by General Iroh and therefore worked from the inside of the fire nation military to bring down the military.  It was a less hands-on character in the story, thus creating a situation when I could create a character that doesn’t interrupt the actual storyline, but still allows me to be close to the characters that I love most.

Another example is Harry Potter.  I created a character for myself that was in the same year at Hogwarts as Albus Dumbledore.  (This is one of those cases where my favorite character is not the main character, I really didn’t care that much for Harry or his rule-breaking friends.  Though I was definitely obsessed with the story and world created by J.K. Rowling, my favorite characters were easily Albus Dumbledore, Tom Riddle, and Fred and George Weasley).  This actually had a unique opportunity in it.  Since only a few details of Dumbledore’s childhood, I was able to create not only one character meant to represent myself, but also the rest of the characters in that particular year at Hogwarts.  In this way, I got to make up an entire seven years at the coolest school in the world with an incredibly talented friend.

Not only that, but I frequently create characters who might exist in multiple books, shows or movies that I like.  For example, I imagined a character in the Twilight world (yes, I like the Twilight world and the structures of the vampires that she created, though I have made it clear in the past that I hated the main characters that she created) that worked for the Volturi, but also made that same character in the exist in the world of Buffy.

Why do I bring this up?  Because I recently added one of the attributes of a character that I created for another story to the main character of my Powers series.  Not the whole character, but their situations ended up being similar in a certain situation that I had imagined, so I decided to use it for my own story.  In thinking about this, I realized that I have done this exact same thing for a lot of my characters throughout my life.  Even as far back as high school, when I first dreamed up the Guardians of the Universe, originally as a new set of Sailor Scouts in the Sailor Moon anime.

No, this is not plagiarism.  While my ideas may stem from someone else’s world, I never use anything created by someone else.  Like I said, I imagine a character and situations all on my own, usually quite different from things in the creator’s world.  If you read about the Guardians, I am willing to bet that you would have never, ever guessed that the many ideals that surround my characters might have ever started from a 90’s anime for little girls, yet that is where they started, and every story that I write now is rooted in the Guardian Universe that I have created.  Besides, building characters is based on our life experiences, I know that.  Creating a new life for myself in another world is part of my own life experiences, even if those experiences aren’t actually real.

No, I do no write fan fic.  Like I said, I create a new life for myself in someone else’s world, all for myself.  Sharing my experiences in these other worlds feel incredibly embarrassing to me, as if I am sharing every intimate detail of my own life with the world.

I don’t only do this kind of character transference from fake scenarios in other people’s fake stories.  I can think of two examples where I became jealous of my own characters, and so would try to create for myself an explanation as to why myself, a human, might suddenly become a part of my own worlds.  This was the birth of Shadow’s Memories, the stories of a powerful immortal who is killed and reborn on Earth without her memories.  This is also the case with a character who is born on Earth, but is actually an extremely powerful sorceress with the incredibly powerful ability to see the past, present and future.  She plays a key part in the “final war” that will end all stories in my universe.

Well, now that I have spilled out so much to you all, I must ask, how do you come up with the features of your characters?  How do you dream up their qualities?  I know that there are people who build the story first, then create characters from the story.  I also know that the opposite is true, where a character is dreamed up and then an adventure is created for this character to take on.  But what other methods of character creation are there?  What is your preferred method?  Does anyone else out there jump into the stories they read/watch the way that I do?

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