Building Character

This post is meant more for my fellow writers than the general public. Nonetheless, I believe that others may find something of value in these words. It is likely though, given my readership at this time, that I am posting this mostly for myself as a kind of record of my thoughts and discoveries. At any rate, today my thoughts lead me to the development of character, both in story and in life.

I've been working on one particular story, off and on, for a number of years. I've written other stories, poems, and posts within this time but I keep coming back to this story to make small changes. Over the course of about eight years, I've made so many changes to this story idea that it has nearly come full circle back to its original concept. So, What has changed? The answer, my writerly friends, is character.

When I first started building upon this story idea, I had a premise and a main character. My main character started with the name "Mehgan Mary McKendry," a good respectable Irish name. I understand that the name of a character is not a major part of character but, for me, my characters tend to take shape around a name. For reasons I cannot explain, I've changed my main character's name to "Katherine Mary McKendry," a very common Irish and Catholic name. You see, my character's actions are, at least in part, driven by her family history. She makes jokes about some of these "oddities" throughout this first story. Yes, I believe there may be more than one as she becomes a Private Investigator/Bounty Hunter of sorts. At first, she follows this path to help a friend but, by the end of this first story, she may decide to pursue this occupation as a means of making a living.

At first Katherine--we'll just call her "Kat" from now on--was not much more than a name and the beginnings of a personality. She was like a cutout doll, stuck in a perpetual position, unable to withstand bending or folding. Over time, and numerous draft rewrites, she began to fill out and take on a personality of her own. Like a child growing up, she, at times, became defiant and questioned everything I did or put her through. Every time I made a decision for her, she would ask, "Is that really how you want me to react?" She is now fully fleshed out and grown-up enough to make through this first story nearly on her own. I do believe though, that it may take another two or three adventures before she can completely stand on her own.

This is why I've decided, from this and other experiences with some stories written under a pen name, that I may need to hold off on publication of this first story until I've, at least begun to develop another adventure or two for her.

I'm interested to know how other writers develop characters in their stories. Do your characters come to you fully dressed and with their own unique personality? Do you create a story around a character or do you create a character to fit the story? Does this all depend on the story or character you've created? Have you ever just had a character show up that needed a story?

My characters are normally something I create for a story and they start out as a simple vehicle to move the story. Over a span of time (and rewrites) they become whole individual characters and begin to drive the story in different ways.

I suppose that, no matter how your characters come to be, they still eventually develop on their own.