How to build fictional characters

“It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.”
William Faulkner

What happened with William Faulkner is exactly what happened with me.

Hello fellow romance aficionados! I’m Tanu Jain and I’m here to share my thoughts on building of fictional characters.

Gauri and Vikram, the protagonists of “His Captive Indian Princess” crashed into me at the ruins of a fort and as soon as we got up and dusted ourselves they began to bicker and squabble. They quarreled and I looked on bemused at the sparks flying around and the chemistry blazing between them. The story was in a nascent stage but the characters weren’t bothered. They continued their verbal sparring both determined to outdo the other.

This has always been how my fictional journey begins. The characters come first and then the story follows. But though Vikram and Gauri, had materialized with a bang, they required some further painstaking craftsmanship. 

Gauri, my heroine seemed to jump off the pages, as my editor told me, and was eminently vivacious and likeable. But Vikram was coming across as a pompous, cruel boor. So, the pitch was to make him likeable and attractive.
I had to figure him out in detail, flesh out his character and bring to fore his roundedness.

I realized that a character like any human being is composed of individual qualities, quirky traits and skeins of motivation.
I racked my memory for characters I had empathized with over the years, characters that had stayed long when the book or movie had gone.  I pondered over their individual qualities that had caught my interest and imagination. And then the motivation aspect came in. What motivated the character? And once I had painstakingly discovered the impulses that drove him and the demons that rode him I could empathize and bring him out correctly.

One tip in crafting characters which has been passed on to me and I would like to share with you is to first of all, draw a male figure and a female figure. These are the main characters. Then, proceed to fill them with physical description, emotional traits, intellectual qualities and background details. As the story progresses add the state of mind of the character. This helps in fleshing out the character and creating a well rounded personality.

Vikram and Gauri, my first romantic hero and heroine are a tribute to the alpha males and feisty, spirited women that I met in the pages of countless Mills and Boon. But though fashioned out of the same rib, they are their own persons. It was a heady feeling to perceive myself as a creator but I realized that the shoe was on the other foot.  Vikram and Gauri had shaken off my shackles and developed and matured, carving out their distinct identities. And even after the book finished, they remained with me as two people, I was proud to have met and known. 

I’d like to conclude with Ernest Heminway’s insightful quote,

“When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.”



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