It’s April, and that means it’s time for the A to Z challenge. I really must be a glutton for punishment; April is my last month of college, and I’m still an amateur blogger, but I must say, I’m looking forward to the challenge. I’m going to be writing short little blurbs about some retired characters from my DISTANT past up until recently; all of them are failed concepts. Part of me is hoping that writing about these characters will inspire me…perhaps to write more during the summer when school is out.
So…for some reason I thought I had a character named Xerxes… I searched through a pile of notes for what seemed like ages. I asked a friend who remembers more about my work than I do. He thought the name sounded somewhat familiar. We dug some more. I think I had a faint glimmer of a concept once upon a time, but it got buried beneath schoolwork and suffering, so I’m going to do something a little different today. (YES. I can do that. Totally my challenge. I make the rules, so I can bend them…or break them.) I’m going to create a new character, and I’m going to take you through my creative process.
Phase One: The Art of Naming
I usually have no expectations when I name a character. In the past, you can see that I’ve tried very hard to make my names fit my characters perfectly. Now I just search for names I like and names that fit a character’s circumstances. I mean…it’s very unlikely that a character from pre-Revolution France would have a name like Katniss. And it’s probably pretty strange for a kid in our day and age to be named Lysander (even though that’s a super awesome name, and we should bring it back).
So I started out by searching for “X” names, since I need an “X” character for this challenge. I also decided that I wanted a more feminine sounding name. (Note: I’m not a big fan of making up my own names. Every once in a while, I’ll do it, but I prefer to search for names first.) Ultimately, I found that I liked the names Xahlia (no meaning), Xahria (“flower”), and Xandria (“defender of humankind”). At this point, I didn’t know which name I liked best, so I decided to move on to phase two.
Phase Two: Behind the Backstory
I’ve had a vague idea for a character for a long, long time. I get my ideas from a variety of different things. Sometimes I meet interesting people or read/watch interesting things. A lot of inspiration comes from music, and recently I’ve gotten ideas from poetry as well. (Believe it or not, Pinterest prompts are great too.) Because I haven’t had a lot of time to flesh this idea out, I’m going to give you a very, very brief synopsis with a few different directions I’m going to experiment with.
X___ is a teenage girl from a wealthy family. She doesn’t know the meaning of “to want” because she’s always had what she needed. (This is a generic enough idea.) However, while she’s out with a group of friends one day, she bumps into a young man from her school. He’s relatively unattractive, socially awkward, and not interested in making friends with anyone, but she notices that he has something in common with her which forces her to meet with him again. Slowly, the rich girl falls in love with the poor boy, but the poor boy isn’t interested at all. Plot twist: this doesn’t end up a love story.
As I mentioned, I could take this in several directions. I originally thought about it in a modern setting, but I rarely write in a modern setting. I considered a semi-futuristic setting as well simply because I’d like the opportunity to play around with technology. But regardless, the idea would stay the same.
Phase Three: Appearances and Personality
This is actually the part where I start writing little snippets to experiment with the character. At this point in my planning, I have a fairly general idea of how I want this character to act. I want her to be kind and sheltered rather than entitled and bratty. More than anything, she’s a big blank slate, and I want her to experience the world. My favorite way to hammer out a good personality is to practice writing “what if” scenes. For example…
- What if X___ got lost and didn’t have any way to get home?
- What if X___ was late for an important appointment?
- What if X___ was given the opportunity to use three “rules free” wishes?
- What if X___ was put in charge of a group project out of the blue?
- What if X___had to choose between friends and family?
All of these questions help teach me a little something about her personality. Is she a leader? Does she handle stress well? Is she a perfectionist? Is she noble or selfish? After spending some time with her, writing these prompts, I get a clearer sketch of her and finally decide on an appearance. (Considering the origin of her name helps as well. If a name is traditionally Chinese, I’d make her Asian.)
Phase Four: Rinse, Wash, and Repeat
Even after I finish all of this, I’m not done. I usually use my characters many, many times before I have them set and ready to go. Even while I’m writing a story I decide to change things. But that’s the beauty of writing, right? We’re never really completely finished with an idea. For now, I’m going to stick with the name Xahria. But that may change!