When I say characters are your best friends, I really mean it. They will annoy you, make you cry, make you laugh, frustrate you, and drive you crazy just like a real friend would. And they should. They should be as real and as annoying as you or me.
Your characters--if you're a character-driven person like me--are the most important part of your story. Because after all, it's their story you're telling. We're reading for them. We want to know how it turns out because we're rooting for them. We're not rooting for the author writing a great book, we forget you exist! (But please do write us a good one.)
In short, we're in it for them.
Many people are plot-driven, and that's okay, but that's just not the way I work. The one time I tried to write and care about the plot more than the characters, I crashed and burned. And I know many people are like me. You want to follow this fantastic person through to the end of their story, whatever the story is. You want to laugh with them, cry with them, and live their life--however awful that could be!
This is the reason I start with characters once I've got a basic idea. Sometimes all I have is a key word. When I was writing my Immorality of Immorality trilogy, all I had was 'vampire' before I moved on to craft Felix, the protagonist. The same went for ZA. I picked up the word 'zombie' and ran with it, crafting Zane before I planned anything out. After all, how the story goes really depends on what your characters would do.
You might be thinking, this is all very self-indulgent, Molly. We don't care what you do. What do we do? Tell us your secrets!
Well, okay then.
To craft the greatest character you can think of, all you have to focus on is making them real. Make the person in your head have thoughts and feelings outside of your own. Give them strengths and weaknesses. Give them fears and dreams.
First, I flesh out a name and a basic description of what they're like as a person. For example, Felix is shy and anxious. Zane is athletic and loving. Once you've got that you can move on to bigger questions. Who do they live with? Who are their friends? What do they like about themselves? What do they hate about themselves? What do they love most? What do they hate most? What drives them onwards in times of struggle?
After these bigger world types of questions, you can move onto the trickier ones. My favourite question of all time is what's their deepest, darkest secret? This secret doesn't have to have any effect on the story, or it can run the story entirely. Either way, you have to know the answer. Until you know everything about your protagonist, you aren't ready to write. What are their weird hobbies and mannerisms? How do they speak, walk, behave among peers, among 'superiors'? What do they wear? How do they style their hair?
And of course . . . What do they look like?
Then we can move onto the less important but fun questions. Favourite colour, book, TV show, film, food, sport, holiday destination. If you're like me, you'll also want to sort your characters into Hogwarts houses and Divergent factions.
Do questionnaires or personality quizzes on their behalf. I have a 'master questions' document that's five pages long that I fill out for all my characters before I get writing. When you get to the end of the questions document, wow, let me tell you, you certainly know more than you thought you would at the start.
Once you've got all this, live and breathe them. Every situation you come across, think about how they would react. See through their eyes until you don't have to ask yourself that question any more. Once you just know, you're ready.
Oh man, you are so ready.
Some may say you're crazy. Some may think there are people living in your head and now there are. Some may look at you with this bizarre I-think-what-you-can-do-is-amazing-but-it-kinda-scares-me look. If you get that, you know you're doing something right.
So go out there and write them something phenomenal. You've made them the best, so go and show the world! But most importantly, have the most fun in the universe doing it!