Reverse Engineering Characters

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There is a lot of writing advice in the world that will tell you to plot your story after you’ve created your characters. I’d say this is generally very sound advice. Most stories are more interesting when they are derived strictly from the conflict of the primary characters. But, some authors are better at coming up with plot or setting rather than characters. If that’s the case with you, there’s another way to go about creating characters for your story.

If you already have a really great plot, say for an action thriller or a mystery, where your main character may not drive the action of the story, then why not look at your tale and try to figure out what sort of character or characters would work best to move along the plot. Say you need a character of a certain profession in the story, start there and work your way backwards. Or if you have key scenes where you know characters must react a certain way in order to move the plot forward, then start designing your character based around that emotional moment. For example, if you know that your character has to react in an angry fashion to something that occurs, start with the idea that your character has anger management issues and then begin to develop him or her from there.

Similarly, if you’re an avid world builder, and you have a great world but you’re not sure exactly what story to tell in it, start with some of the types of people who would appear in the setting and then try to derive interesting characters from those. To make it more unique, try thinking of characters who might not stereotypically be considered for the type of story you’re thinking of writing. For example, if you’ve created a fantasy world but aren’t sure what story to tell in it, try considering characters who aren’t warriors, rogues, or clerics. Try to think of other characters who might exist in this world that fantasy stories don’t usually touch on.

I’ve written another article that more closely details my approach to character design, and there are a lot of different ways to create characters for your story. You’ll have to find out what works best for you. But for those of you who are heavy into creating plots and struggle somewhat with creating the characters who will bring the story to life, doing this sort of reverse engineering might be a good way to make sure you come up with characters who authentically fit into your story. This way you don’t have to worry about your character derailing your plot, and you can also avoid having characters who feel like they are agents of the plot rather than real people.

If this approach is held to at all, let me know in the comments. If there are other approaches you have discovered for generating ideas of different characters, let me know that in the comments as well. Thank you for reading, and I hope you found this helpful


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