Finding my main character

I want me book to be full of real people.

It doesn’t have to be bursting at the seams with characters, but I want the ones I do write to feel real.

I know I’m not the only one. There are so many people talking and writing about how to create dynamic, interesting characters. There are so many people talking and writing about what makes a character strong and how new writers can avoid cliches.

That’s all very helpful but, none of it ever feels real. It’s like I’m taking their tips and their tricks and building a character. It’s like I’m piecing together a robotic replicant using only the best individual parts.

I don’t think it should be like that.

Instead, I want to mold my characters out of soft clay. I want to feel their shape in my hands and hear their voice in my ears. I want to get to know them and be surprised by them. I want to discover them.

Take my main character, for instance.

She’s female. I know it. I can see her. I felt her soft clay morph, with gentle encouragement, into a person. She’s blunt and impatient. I know that because I can hear her. She’s annoyed with me because I’ve found another List of Amazing Questions to Ask Your Main Character To Reveal Who They Really Are. She also has a strong sense of duty. She hasn’t exactly said anything, but I can see it. In the way she holds herself. In the way she’s never taken off those seals that put her squarely on one side of a war the rest of the world’s already forgotten.

I know these things about her. Here’s the problem:

There are a lot of protagonists who are stubborn, blunt, and impatient.

There are a lot of protagonists who have strong sense of duty.

There are a lot of protagonists just like mine.

She doesn’t feel new. She doesn’t feel original. So I Google.

How do I make my main character feel new and original?

And, again, I start attaching quirks and motivations and characteristics and back stories to this person who doesn’t want them. I write and revise her history. I write a non-canon interview with her. I write an interrogation. I dive deep into her fears. I explore her dreams.

I try to make her solid enough, strong enough, to hold her shape once that clay is in a reader’s hand.

And she gets more solid. She gets stronger.

The way an old car gets more solid when you add new parts to it. The way a building gets stronger when you reinforce the walls.

I’m building her out of pieces. They fit, but they don’t feel like her.

So I Google.

Does my main character need to feel new and original?

Google responds. Yes.

But, I don’t want to build her. I want to find her.

And I have no idea where she is.


How do you discover your main characters?

JP

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