An interesting question came to me in a conversation with a friend. That is, the conundrum of “Where do story characters come from?”
I say that it is interesting because I quite candidly don’t know the answer. The arrival of a character is almost as enigmatic as the character is themselves. Characters are, in a materialist’s opinion, figments of the imagination. They are merely creations of the engine of the mind put forth for the writer’s use in a story. But we know that’s not all there is to it, though the above opinion is partially correct, of course.
But it is not wholly correct.
Characters are human; they are just as human as you or I. They have personalities; they have quirks and nuances; they laugh, and they cry. And most human of all, they possess the most remarkable resilience.
But their origins are unknown. Perhaps they are mere figments, ghosts of the psyche that are conjured for the very purpose of slaving to a plot. Or maybe they are a stroke of providence, a unique piece of “somewhere else” (if you believe there is somewhere out there that one could consider “else”). Of course, both explanations seem fitting on a philosophical spectrum, I believe there is more to it than that, and my beliefs come from a particular part of my writing process.
I do not brainstorm characters. Honestly, I rarely research name meanings to fit a character’s personality. Though there is no correct way to make or name a character (just as there is no correct way to write a story), I personally believe this takes away the sense of organism that the character possesses in my mind.
So, what do I do when I need a new character, you might ask? Well, I’m a bit careless. I clear my mind and simply ask:
“What’s your name?”
Photo by William F. Burk
It’s curious to me how I will always get an answer. Of course, I have planned characters, but most are happy surprises.
And because of this, I cannot say that they are mere figments for a story. Many of them don’t have a story yet. And as for providence, I don’t believe any of them are given to me.
No. Characters are something entirely other. Perhaps they are real? And I believe I love the mystery of it. They are blessings to the writer. They teach us; they surprise us; they show us the beauty in the world when they overcome
adversity. They are unique and wondrous little voices that speak to our hearts and minds…
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
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William F. Burk
Award-winning author of fantasy, flash fiction, and poetry. Author of "The Heart of Hearts," a debut fantasy novel. Always writing, forever and ever.