Where I Find My Character Inspiration

It all starts with a sketch...

It all starts with a sketch…

Not sure if I’ve written about this before, but with current events in Ferguson only a few miles from where I live, I figured I’d reinstate where I find inspiration.

The really short answer is: everywhere. I mean, I’m a creative guy. I love people. I’m full of inspiration. Boom managed. Short-blog readers rejoice. 🙂

There’s a longer answer to this that I feel I must elaborate upon. Come! Follow me down this little path.

(Relatively) recently a person asked me why I couldn’t write non-fantasy fiction: all the characters could easily be regular, average-joe people, my magic (if I use it) tends to be under the surface, and I’ve a penchant for creating dynamic personalities. It’s a great question, and one that I’ve been asked across the field, even in college. A professor even had an emergency meeting with me when he found out I wrote fantasy: “I think,” he said, very carefully, “you should pursue more, um, applicable areas of creative writing.” I nodded, considered it seriously, and continued forward.

I grew up steeped in satire, sarcasm, and larger-than-life people. It’s true that a part of myself goes into every character: in fact, my brother looks across the board, when he reads something of mine, and says, “They all sound like you! This is Naive Chris with a Vagina. This one’s Holy Chris, torn about his humanity. Over there? Punk Chris with too much time on his hands.”

Truth. I have to take what he says with a grain of sand. Salt? Salt and wine.

Areas of Character Inspiration:

  • People-watching. Coffee-shop writers love listening in on conversations, watching people interact on the street, asking questions to figure out why someone would be who they are. This is a very fundamental step, and most non-genre fiction writers love this process. I love it. I absolutely love it. Unfortunately, most of the people I see anymore come across as quite boring. Maybe it’s me? I don’t know. I’ve lived a colorful life.
  • Other Books/Movies/Plays/Music/Art. Some truly great characters are borne of books, and possibly never existed in the first place. Read some of the classics and you’ll find a handful of deliciously flawed, dynamic people. A lot of people peruse this portion for the sake of getting inside characters’ heads, an ability a people-watcher simply can’t do. You find the plane of inspiration much more symbolic, artistic, valuable in a (quasi) scientific setting.
  • Dreams. Some people wake up from a dream where a character brandishes a sword and hews the world tree: whole novels are written based off that single idea. Complex personalization between individuals in a group create, for me, a whole dynamic I find difficult to pull off in real life: communal intrigue interests me, but doesn’t inspire me. Yet here I am, writing a novel with such a complex people-knot, I’m constantly stopping to think through the characters: how they develop, how they grow, how they stunt.
  • Conversations over ideas/philosophical stances. This is a furthering of “dream” inspiration, only from an active stance. As an academic (or former academic), I spent a lot of time juggling motivation. Some times, the character grows out of a motivation. A character grows out of a need for communicating the other side. The Dark Knight, with Batman and Joker, seems to have come from a similar discussion, and it dominated my brain. I’ve seen that movie no less than twenty times, and I’m still not tired of it.
  • Close friends/family. We can’t forget those earth-shakers in our lives, even if they shake an inch of earth at a time and try to hide it. These are most likely some of the most influential motivators for our characters, because it combines People-watching with getting in their heads and actually watching a character arc, in real life. Furthermore, you can actually ask these people how they’d handle something, how they’d react to a conflict, and listen to what they do.
  • Current Events. This is the final one, in my head (can’t think of anywhere else), where you see unsung heroes and villains, backbreakers and reinforcers. You find everyone across the board, if you get out and look for them. In Ferguson, for example: while the media reports on the sensationalism of the piece, showing great fires burning in the middle of the night and scary-looking people running into the dark, the truth of it is there’s a whole lot of people out there working their asses off for change. These movements can easily mimic movements in your book, and characters change at such catalysts.

I’m somewhere in-between a bunch of these, as I’m sure most are: a strong writer tends to have his ears open, eyes assessing, and brain churning more than most. It’s a beautiful thing to see.

The reason I mentioned why I write fantasy is the simple fact that I dream brilliant and vibrant dreams. Dreams filled with conflict and fantastic elements, characters, themes. I still remember a man riding his horse down a large well, where he meets his compatriots for anarchy in a reliquary filled with illuminated star charts, herbs, and trinkets of all kinds. I still remember sitting atop a baobab tree that grew out of a dark ocean filled with great beasts. I still remember the sickly man playing his violin at the base of my bed, the window behind showing an unrelenting snow.


One thought on “Where I Find My Character Inspiration

  1. I have to say, part of good character building is finding interesting things in otherwise boring people. These things are, after all, what makes character building work. 🙂 I think most of us write characters who are, essentially, ourselves–I mean, we’re not omniscient, are we? We work with what we have, which is the universe seen from our own point of view. Subjectivity, etc.

    I know my characters tend to be me, at least. Emily as she is, Emily as she feels she is, Emily as she wishes she could be, Emily as she imagines other people see her, Emily talking at great length in third person, etc. Excellent as always, m’dear.

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