Take Your Warrior to Lunch
© 2002 by Jennifer L. Oberlander
I shifted about nervously in my chair as I sat
across from the tall, muscular, dark-skinned woman lounging back on
the large couch. Her signature crimson cloak danced about her
muscular form as she sipped upon a tankard of ale.
"So what is it you want?" she asked, setting
down the mug with a bang on the table.
"Always to the point," I remarked.
"That's how you've portrayed me," she
"True," I conceded, offering her a sandwich
of roast beef. "I just wanted to chat about what your view is on the
world and such."
"You really want to know?" I nodded in the
affirmative. Taking a deep breath, she began to relay her feelings
about certain matters.
This opening may be a little
dramatic for a piece on character creation, but it does demonstrate
my own method of developing characters that are memorable and real.
That is, one must know the character as if they were your best
friend, one who confides in you their deepest darkest secrets.
Most of the time in the guidelines for
submission to any periodical or novel, the publisher states that
they prefer character-driven stories. I've often found this remark
amusing, since with the possible exception of the horror genre, the
characters are the focus of any yarn. Consider the mysteries of
Sarah Paretsky: it is the wisecracking private detective V.I.
Warshawski who is the focus of her tales, not the city of Chicago.
We know how V.I. feels about such small matters as housework and
that she loves opera. We even have insight into her background:
she's the daughter of a Polish beat cop and a former Italian opera
singer, and her mother died when she was young. All this added
detail makes the character believable and allows us to understand
In roughly the same genre, Lori Lake, who
recently was chosen as one of the most popular authors through a
readers' poll in Lavender Magazine, rises above the rest of her
peers by giving the main characters in her tales a background and
family history. We know why they act the way they do, and as such we
can feel for them as real people.
Most fantasy is the same way as well;
Lackey's Tamra and Kethry jump immediately to mind. And of course
one must not forget Tolkien's memorable characters of Frodo and
Gandalf and, last but by far not least, Sam Wise Gamgee.
Now that we have established that characters
make the story, how does one go about creating them in a believable
fashion? There is a plethora of personality profile devices used to
explain various traits that form a personality. I have never found
much use for them. No person can fit into a single set of
guidelines. Humans are complex creatures with many facets to their
persona. So unless your characters are incredibly shallow, they
should also be complicated with many facets.
I usually start creating a new character by
writing down a few basic physical traits. What do they like to
drink? What is their education? I also might add whether they are
single or have a partner-along with sexual orientation- what their
favorite color is, and anything else I can think of, including what
their parents were like and what kind of childhood they had. Once
completed, it should resemble a profile sheet with a few basic
traits sketched out. From that, one can build the personality.
Even something as simple as their preferred
drink can be important. Why does the woman prefer beer to wine? As
an example, a martini tends to be a drink associated with
businesspeople. If they are not from this social stratum, they
should have a reason for doing this.
A particular preference can also reveal a
bit about one's personality. Keeping with the drink theme, James
Bond's signature cocktail is a vodka martini, shaken not stirred.
This tells us the man is a sophisticated individual, yet because of
the unique directions as to how it must be prepared, we know he is
someone who likes things his way and usually gets what he wants. We
also can discern, even if we aren't familiar with mixology, this is
not the normal method of preparation and so he marches to the beat
of a different drummer, so to speak.
As you can see, the author may reveal a
great deal about a person just from one simple trait. Always have a
reason for a character to do or like something. Don't have them
prefer wine to beer simply because you do. They are not you, well
not exactly; you must let the characters be themselves.
Next part is to simply think about the
character a bit, pretend you are having a private chat with them.
How do they react to certain situations? You should know your main
Is the character a romantic but fears
intimacy and falling in love? If so, why? Do they mask the character
flaw with bluster, or are they quiet and retiring when the subject
arises? Why did they choose this particular defense? As the author,
you should know why they act this way.
With these steps, it is not a matter of
guessing or figuring out what your character will do in a scene. You
Even the most minor characters deserve the
same consideration, though perhaps to a somewhat lesser extent. Keep
your world populated with living individuals, not two-dimensional
figures. Believe me, readers will notice the difference and
appreciate the tale much more. Also, don't forget the villains in
the piece. The main villain should be as real as the hero. Remember,
they have motivations for their selfish actions and may not see
themselves as evil at all. Most people don't see themselves as truly
bad and are only doing what they rationalize is best.
"Is that all?" The statuesque, dark-hued woman inquired
as she rose up from her seat on the couch.
"I think so," I replied, taking a sip from
my glass of wine and making a few more notes on my pad. "Thank you
for your time." She gave me a quick nod and faded from view, back
into my mind.
Refilling my glass, I returned to my
keyboard to spin my yarn of
Author of Turn of the Wheel
Winner of story of the
year 2001 in Demensions for "Monsters"
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