Characters are like kids. When they first turn up, they’re more of an idea than a real person.* There’s potential there, you can feel it, but they just lie around and do nothing. They, like babies, are not done yet.
But once they’ve been around for a little while (characters grow faster than babies, thank god), they start to fill out. They get personalities, reactions, emotions. They take up hobbies sometimes. They become more real.
The point of this rambling monologue is that sometimes characters, like kids, need some time to grow before they become anything interesting.
Now, this isn’t true of all characters. Some of them just pop up, fully formed, Athena springing from the forehead of Zeus**. These are the ones that seem like magic, like something from outside, because they turn up all finished. For me, a lot of these tend to be my bad guys. I don’t know why. All I know is, if I need a really loathsome son of a bitch or a fucked up person that you can kind of understand but who takes things way, way too far…I’m your woman. Those guys turn up all the time. You’d think my head was a convention for them.
But other characters, especially my protagonists***, I’ve got to spend some quality time with them before they become real people. At the beginning they’re just formless character blobs, not always indistinguishable from each other****. Then they start hanging around in my head, eating all my food and watching inappropriate things on Brain Television. They check out memories and skills and habits, taking on some, leaving others, inventing new ones if they don’t like anything I have available. ***** They change, trying on new identities.
The more time we spend together, though, the more they solidify and gain colour, until one day I look around and I’ve got a functional human being on my hands.
And then they go out on their own, all shiny and fresh-faced, and wreck untold havoc on their worlds. Honestly, I couldn’t be more proud.
*Sorry if this insults anyone who’s got one, but it’s a fact: babies aren’t done yet. Give them a couple of years and then they turn into people, but in the meantime they’re more like goldfish.
**Anyone ever wonder about that? I mean, I’ve had some headaches myself, but…
***There is one exception to this rule: David, the narrator of a short story I wrote called “Dog Fight” in Unearthed. He’s an odd one, and I sometimes feel like I should write more about him. But I digress.
****Again, like babies.
***** “You want to be an expert in what? Pornographic Japanese woodcuts? Seriously?”