What are we good at as fiction writers?
Making things up, right?
That’s fun for us, though often frustrating when we don’t know where to go. So, I’m going to give you a simple starting point — create your characters first.
And to make it fun, you’re going to come up with a rounded persona, rather than just a digital avatar without substance behind it. You’re going to create a life in the form of a character “dossier.” Ask yourself 20 questions about your character, and when you find out which characteristics are most important to you, you can use your dossier for every character you create.
To enhance the fun quotient and your character, you’re also going to give them 5 things that “show” who they are. We’ll be getting into “show, don’t tell” in a bit, but keep in mind that you NEVER want to describe a character like this:
Malibu Jack was six feet four inches tall. He had blue eyes and his skin was caramel tan all over. He wore cut-off jeans, a t-shirt that said “Pac Sun,” and smile that was wide and bright.
Boring. I gave him kind of a cool name that helped, but when you list details like that… way more boring than this:
If you wanted to look into Malibu Jack’s eyes, you’d both need to be sitting down. Otherwise, most people would be looking at his chest, where he had a single tatoo — L. U. People often thought it meant Louisana University, but Jack never went to school in Louisiana. In fact, he’d never left Texas or graduated from any school of higher learning. His surfboard key fob and Pac Sun T-shirt pointed toward the California experience. He looked like a surfer dude all right, but it was just a dream — his lifelong dream. But Jack knew that he could never leave Waco, and though his smile shined like the Texas sun on the desert, he craved something more than the life he was handed. Jack opened his Zippo and lit the hooter hanging from his lip. Another boring day. Where would it take him?
So, that could be the beginning of a conflict. Jack is unhappy. He’s a surfer dude at heart, but stuck in Texas. Why? Why would a kid from Texas want that so much? And why can’t he change his situation?
He’s got a tattoo, a key fob, a T-shirt, a joint, and a great smile. We don’t know what the tattoo means yet, but the other things are pointing toward Jack’s state of being.
Who’s Malibu Jack? He’s a dreamer and somebody whose life needs changing, right? But is he a wastrel? Is he beyond hope? What’s his true story? You know, but your readers don’t — not quite yet. Can you see how you can build characters this way? Pretty simple.
And they’ll be much more fun to figure out and write because you’re thinking deeply about who they are, where they’ve been, and where they want to go. Throw a conflict at them and you’ve got a story. Where it goes from there is up to you.