Characters Aren’t a Fling

Sherlock Holmes. Dracula. Gandalf. These–and many other–characters have outlived their creators.

Unlike their creators, these characters have no generation: people of all ages know them. Sometimes they even create an archetype (Gandalf leading the wizard archetype) or find themselves in modern settings (BBC’s recent Sherlock series) but only their original form can stand the test of time. Only their original form is immortal.

What makes a character immortal?

For one, the immortal character isn’t an archetype: it makes an archetype.

As readers, we love these characters because they’re different. They stand out. Perhaps it’s their voice. Perhaps it’s their quirky characteristics. Whatever the case, their authors have spent time getting to know them.

Gandalf, for example, was almost named Baldorthin. Holmes was nearly a Sherringford. But their authors didn’t let them stew in their names. Tolkien and Doyle took notes, wrote freewrites and pondered over their characters, leading in their decision to make a name change.

If people walk in on you writing a voice journal and don’t think you’re crazy, you aren’t doing it right.

While you will never be able to create a living person–let’s face it, authors aren’t God–hard work can help you create a peerless individual.

Characters aren’t a fling. They aren’t a one-night stand. Getting to know them takes time and hard work. It takes excessive free writes and multiple experiments.

Find that je ne sais quoi in your character.

Find it and make it a part of them.

Finding it may take a while, but how long is ‘a while’ when compared to ‘an eternity?’

God willing, of course!




  1. derekberry said,

    August 8, 2012 at 01:53

    When I begin a story (or novel), I begin with characters who I feel are fully-formed. I write short stories about them first to get a sense for their voices, their past, their lives. Then I scrap those stories. I set up a new catalyst and pour them into a story together, somewhere, wherever the story takes place.
    And that’s how a novel, for me, starts. With characters as people I might know meeting something, some obstacle, and from there, the plot grows organically.

    • August 8, 2012 at 03:49

      Wonderful insight!

      It seems like focusing on the characters rather than the plot makes the plot flow more naturally. Harder work, of course, but rewarding.

  2. EFoley said,

    August 9, 2012 at 12:48

    Great post! Makes me think about how these archetypal characters are rooted in yet deeper archetypes–like Gandalf being rooted in Merlin, I’d think. Merlin should get a t-shirt that says, “I was Gandalf when Gandalf was a mere Baldorthin”…

  3. August 22, 2012 at 11:11

    […] Characters Aren’t a Fling ( […]

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