Pen and Scalpel: How I Create My Characters.

I sometimes look at my mind as a warehouse that has been passed through a blender. Can you picture that? Neither can I, but that’s what I see. I have seen so many films and television shows and have read so many books that my mind has split into two distinct warehouses. The first one is filled with filing cabinets. Each cabinet is a genre or a movie franchise. All of the ideas inside any particular cabinet are kept organized in neat folders. The second one is a vortex of swirling data. Nothing is in place, and ideas smash into other ideas.

My Mind Is A Blender
This second warehouse is where the ideas come from. It could be Jurassic Park‘s velociraptors hitting the Martian War Machines from The War of the Worlds. Out of that comes an idea of a squadron of WWII fighter planes “manned” by trained raptors. Weird, yes, but that’s how the process works. Not all of the ideas work well at all, but enough do to keep the vortex at high velocity.
When it comes to creating characters, I take a great deal more care with them than I do a story idea. Stories are made up of characters who are in situations they must get out of somehow. Without characters, you only have situations and challenges without someone to grapple with them. For me, characters come in different layers. Each layer is important, and they are all tied together. One cannot be separated from any of the others.

Each Layer Is Important To The Others
Here are some of the layers I use to create a character. Put as many of these things into your story and give your people’s existence some reality.
  • Prior Life. Their Back Story in other words.
  • Friends, Enemies and Relatives.
  • Eccentricities, Habits and Nits.
  • Real Life Dialogue, Idioms and Catch Phrases.
  • Believability, Honor and A Sense Of Humor.
  • Fears, Beliefs and Superstitions.
  • Speech Patterns, Tics and Accents.
  • Goals, Dreams and Ambitions.
  • Curiosity, Interests and Dislikes.
MY CHARACTERS
John Pentgram. He started as a college assignment. I had to write a short story for my Creative Writing Final. The class received the assignment on Day Two of the class. I began to write down ideas, and found they were all terrible.

Then, one evening, I saw an old episode of Get Smart. In it, Maxwell Smart discovered that the enemy spy he had been chasing could not be caught because he’s a vampire. That created a spark in my mind. What if I created a detective who has been bitten by a werewolf? Better yet what if he could control his werewolf urges and use his gift to solve crimes?

The result became Nigh Of Fate, the story all of the other Pentgram stories revolved around. I now have a set of stories that take place before he gets bitten by the werewolf, and a set of stories taking place after he’s been bitten.

Are You Afraid Of The Dark?
Surela of Valtoor. My friend Michael ran a D & D campaign for many years. I couldn’t play but I helped him come up with traps, creatures and impossible situations for his characters. One day, I came up with a character who had influence over cats and gravity. Michael thought I had the potential for a new set of gods and influences they give to mortals.
The next morning, I woke up with an idea about a female thief on a mission to steal a treasure that had never been stolen from an empty town that would not let you leave. I sat down and wrote the name Surela on the paper. Where the name came from I still have no idea. Writing their name down gave me the entire story, including her 5 inch tall, friend Lim and her Entallic horse.

Surela’s entire world revealed itself in the next two stories. With the details of the God Shards clarified, the rest of the world and its history unfolded in the next six months. I wrote with a speed I had never experienced before or since. As a result, I had over 100 pages of background material, from coinage to religions to maps.

The Land Of Variema
Franklin Adams. Suppose the Frankenstein’s monster survived his arctic adventure? Suppose he went west and wound up in Canada? Suppose he became a fur trapper and saved all of his money until he could move to the U.S.? Suppose his scars faded until they were gone, yet he remained un-aging?
Cut to the present day. Adams is a private detective living in the Midwood section of Brooklyn. With over 200 years of knowledge and wisdom, he is used by the Police to help solve crimes they deem unsolvable. No one knows who he really is, until 12-year-old Rochelle Horowitz put the dozens of stray pieces of Adams’ life together. She becomes one of his apprentices and the only one who knows his secret.
Ryan Dacalos. In the year 2227, Ryan is hired to steal the Khurlu, the largest diamond ever found. It is in a secure box on Mars, which is forbidden to any visitors by the Uni-World Council. The money he is offered is too good to pass up and Ryan takes the job. He is immediately set upon by someone who doesn’t want him to get the diamond.

The Khurlu Of Mars
This story all stems from an off-hand remark from my friend Michael. One day, he happened to be talking about the planet Mars. In the middle of the conversation, he said something about the “Great Martian Terra-Form Disaster.” The story instantly hit me.

What if there was a disaster directly caused by efforts to terra-form Mars? What if the governments of the solar system decreed that Mars was now off-limits due to the anticipated destruction of the Martian Eco-system? What if the colonies already established on Mars were given 24 hours to evacuate forever, and some important things were left behind?

All of these details hit me at once, including the character who became Ryan Dacalos, psychic thief and obtainer of lost objects. His friends, Burke and Astra, came later in the day as I wrote down the details as they hit me. These people and the various settings were all in place within the week.

I chose to write the book in the First Person, something I had never done before. That new aspect of writing proved to be no problem for me. I wrote Ryan as if he were actually living the adventure as I wrote it. This gave the story a real immediacy that I liked.

People are just people, and these individuals you have been introduced to are members of their community. They just have jobs that are a lot different than yours or mine.