Where do you start when a story comes to mind? For me, it almost always begins with a character or two, sometimes with a place. My latest endeavor starts with a little of both.
So, where did this idea come from, and how has it been germinating in my head? Well, I was watching a little television, and an idea just hit me out of the blue. What if an inn was located between two major trading cities as a stopping point for travelers?
I looked at the map of my fantasy world and found the perfect location. A flash of inspiration later, I had an idea of how a place like that should be staffed. I created the pages for each character that would be present in the enclave. Whew, I need to generate twenty-five characters of varying detail. Five or so characters will be fully fleshed out because they will be among the main actors of the story. The rest need notes.
Then there is the history of the tavern itself. Almost every inn in a fantasy setting has a bit of history, and the Happy Harpy is no exception. (Yes, the name of the place is the Happy Harpy.) It has a rich history that spans some three hundred or so years. So, I have a place to start the action, and a few characters to help flesh the thing out.
What’s next? I’ll map out the area surrounding the outpost. I need to know the size of the playground the main characters will eventually play in. I also need to map out the inn and the compound itself. I keep getting ideas that help bring multiple dimensions to the region. I also have a loose plot in mind, but that will depend on my main characters.
Because I had inspiration on the location and it’s denizens first, that is what I decided to work out at the beginning of this tale. I’ll have to build other hamlets, towns, and cities as my heroes traverse the continent. The Happy Harpy is still telling me its story, as are the permanent residents of the outpost.
Along the way, I am not only building a small region, but I am also telling the story of the world that my fantasy continent inhabits. How civilized is the world at large? What denizens inhabit the wild regions of the world? What races inhabit the civilized areas? Some of these questions will be answered as our heroes meet and discover they are part of a higher plan.
I really can’t describe exactly how I build a character history. Generally, I start with the basics: How smart or healthy is the character? How much common sense do they have? How did they get where they are? What is their role in the story? Where did they come from? What do they want? What are they afraid of? What is their most significant character flaw? With what or who is their strongest bond? As I build some characters, they tell me their stories as if we are old friends. Other characters are more reticent, and I have to pull their story from them one tale at a time.
Eventually, I’ll know the history of each background character who will most likely be approached by the protagonists. So far, I am well-acquainted with the proprietor, the stable master, and the cook. I’ll talk to the rest of them in the coming days. I’m not looking forward to interviewing the captain of the guard. I already know he’s a bit difficult.
I get character ideas all the time. They don’t always go anywhere, but I still get them. I flesh them out as long as I hold their attention (or is it as long as they keep my attention, I’m not sure). I eventually find a home for some of those characters, but some are still waiting to tell me where they belong. Gotta love the support folks.
In the coming weeks, I’ll be building a few more characters and getting the landscape to unfold, then I’ll look at the world at large. That’s where the fun really begins. For now, I listen to those already living in the compound and record their tales.
How about you? How do you come up with your characters?
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