I’ve been indulging in a guilty pleasure, lately. Namely, I’ve been writing fanfiction. (Doctor Who fanfiction specifically, but that’s not the important bit.) I suppose it’s good that I’m writing something, at least, and even fanfiction gives me a chance to play with words and craft stories. But I think the biggest thing it’s done for me is allow me to see what the problem is with my regular writing.
Because when I write fanfiction, it just flows. You see, it’s easy to write when you’re inspired, and it’s easy to be inspired by a set of characters fully made with all their quirks, their history and their issues already laid out before you. At that point it’s easy to place the characters in a certain situation and let the story unfold. If the characters are fully developed, believable people, then their words and actions will flow naturally.
Fanfiction certainly allows you to explore your craft. It teaches you to be consistent with your characterization, it teaches you how to craft a believable plot, how to find your voice even, but it does not tell you how to create a good character. I’m including world building under the heading of character creation, because the place a character exists in is as much a part of them as their hair color or personality traits.
So, I can see when I write fanfiction what my own original writing lacks – good, believable characters. I’ve been focusing too much on STORY and not enough on CHARACTERS, and while STORY is important, it is a rudderless ship without the CHARACTERS to inhabit it.
How do you create good characters? I’ve read a little about this and everyone has their own formula. In my opinion, formulas don’t always work – they tend to make things rather… formulaic. My best characters, in my opinion, have been ones that have sprung, fully grown, from my imagination rather than the ones that have to be built up, layer by layer, but that’s just me. I think it’s a very individual thing and some writers just have a gift for bringing forth great characters. For those of us who don’t… well, I think it’s more a little bit of practice makes perfect.