Character creation/development


Well-Known Member
May 4, 2007
Why is it that some characters who are created by the plot just waltz into my head and take up residence? Mirabelle was created on the fly in a short story that turned out to be a rubbish short story, but probably the start of a novel idea. She appears in my head fully formed, I could predict how she will react to things. Clem Helagir, however, from my work in progress, is just like a cardboard cutout. I struggle to know what he will talk about, and what matters to him. It could partly be lack of research, but realistically Mirabelle could do with more research. Does anyone else find this? Does anything help? Clem is the decoy love interest, if you like, and is supposed to be courting my protagonist, but I don't know what he wants to say.
Perhaps, and this is just off the top of my head, the character of Clem is a cutout because you have written him to fit a specific role, while Mirabelle is free to grow and change without it impacting anything else?
@.matthew. where do you get characters to fill specific roles from them? Perhaps you're right, but Clem's brief is pretty wide. Perhaps that is partly the problem.
Well, I'm not one to brag - mostly because I have written nothing worth bragging about - but I find that characters develop the most when you throw them into other situations.

Have you tried writing Clem apart from what will be in the book?

Maybe if you do some separate scenes, say a few hundred words each. Do his social life, family, childhood, something good, something bad, things like. You might find him filling out a bit more in your head. You could then use what you've learnt about him in those to make him more rounded in your main novel.
If I could add some small advice, I would say for you to look back over Clem's character sheet and ask yourself how much of are things you came up with relatively quickly (i.e.--they were one of the first things that popped into your head for this character). It may be that some of the first things that you came up with for this character are "stale" assumptions about the type of person you expect them to be, and if you instead dig down on the things that you originally took for granted about them you may find some new interesting nuggets in their character that makes them more of a person than just a role-filler.
Okay so I come at characters a different way - never used a bio or sheet yet - and it might sound weird but have you tried acting as if you’re Clem? Also try writing him in the first person if you don’t already. Don’t worry about how ‘good’ the words are. These are not for using.
@Jo Zebedee I loved character profiles when I was a teenager but don't use them now. I honestly wouldn't know how to act like I'm him. Writing from his perspective or about him could definitely help. The main message my brain is giving me at the moment is to write Mirabelle instead...
@Jo Zebedee I loved character profiles when I was a teenager but don't use them now. I honestly wouldn't know how to act like I'm him. Writing from his perspective or about him could definitely help. The main message my brain is giving me at the moment is to write Mirabelle instead...
Then write Mirabelle and trust your subconscious. If you feel you don’t know him enough to act him then you likely don’t know him well enough to write either
I'd say definitely try and write a scene from his perspective. Perhaps one that is already in your book, just to get in his head a bit more and flesh him out.
Clem sounds like all of my characters initially. I don't have any when I start writing a novel (vague human blobs, I call them at that stage), so they just show up one by one and react to, and often change, the story as it moves along. I frequently edit during the writing, so as I learn more about the characters I can go back and add detail and depth. The aim is to make them appear fully formed human beings from the start.

I find this back and forth helps to clarify any character issues or uncertainty, although it does draw out the process.
I've definitely noticed some characters jump out of the imagination fully formed and some take a little work. I'm not entirely sure why but my guess is it comes to specificity. I can usually tell you a lot about my characters right away - or start making stuff around them easily - but sometimes I don't know what it is about them that knits the elements of their character together, or don't know their voice.

While there's been a lot of good ideas so far, I'd like to throw into the pot "Naked theft of traits from historical/mythical people with a shared resonance" as a good way of finding some missing details and building coherence.
This is an interesting question. It is an essential to the whole notion of finding the correct character to narrate your story.

It's all about POV, in this case I separate that from POV narrator and expressly talk about knowing the POV of your characters.
You build a world and a world situation that is what you feel is the nub of your story and now you want to people it with characters. This involves getting into those characters heads--their Point of View--and understanding what drives them under the condition you've given them to work with.

If the character you have created is not fitting in well, it might be they are the wrong character for that portion of the story. Get into their head and find out what drives them and then see if that matches the story[or at least see how you can fit them into the story]--if not, then you might need a different character.

If for some reason a cardboard character shows up in a scene, I try to move them in and out as quickly as possible--if, in fact, they even belong there to begin with. They are really nothing more that furniture or accessories that create ambiance and help flesh out the scene.
Maybe he's sulking because he suspects he's been cast as the decoy love interest.

Flippancy aside, it might be that your subconscious isn't putting much work into him because it doesn't regard him as important.
Your subconscious is doing a huge amount of work without you being aware of it.
Minor characters coming to the fore unexpectedly is quite a common phenomenon. It means the character was there all the time, and was ready to appear. Quite likely the character is linked to you somehow - perhaps representing part of your own character.

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