A Truant Disposition

"I must be idle."

100 Days of Characters

Written By: Ainy Rainwater - Jul• 27•18

I just finished a challenge to create a new character every day for a hundred days. I’d started to do something different for a 100 day challenge, but chatting with my online writing group about what writers could do for the challenge I joked that I’d could populate a town with 100 characters and thus the challenge was born! I didn’t stick to populating one fictional setting with 100 totally new characters, however. I’ve always been fascinated with names and pretty much have to have characters’ names firmly decided before I can begin a project. If I get the name wrong, the character doesn’t feel right and eventually I have to stop and go through the naming process again. (I’ve only had to do this once; it was disconcerting writing a character whose name was not right.) So I started, not with the story or setting I wanted to populate, but with names. The names more or less told me what story, setting, or project they belonged in. A few names suggested to me whole new stories I’d not contemplated writing before, which was exciting! So there may be a few new stories to come out of this. Mostly, I have some fairly large groups of people divided among several projects. Not surprisingly, the bulk of the characters are secondary characters or tertiary characters that the protagonists interact with, though some of these have the potential to grow into more.

This is one of the things I love about being a writer: I’m always seeing more than what’s on the page. I’m always seeing potentialities beyond the story at hand. Because stories are, despite the restrictions of setting or plot, unlimited. Fiction—even the wildest, least connected with reality type of fiction—is like life in the sense that there’s a world and people and a dynamic. Things happen. The writer selects which things to mention in the story, but the characters say and do other things which don’t end up on the page because there’s no good reason to mention them. The place has a history. Someone built those buildings, devices, machines, someone designed every lovely thing—and yes, as the author, I created those imaginary things, but there are unseen people in whatever story I’m writing who create the things the characters use, who make the food they eat, who decide what sort of a world they live in.

I tend to write microcosms. I’m not much for big sprawling epic stories. I tend to look at a few characters in one tiny corner of a big world and what’s happening to them, what they are doing today—and why. I like to keep things on a small personal scale because that’s how we experience the world. Most people aren’t caught up in grand epic adventures; they’re just dealing with what’s in front of them and some days that’s more than enough. Of course, with science fiction and fantasy, what one character (and friends) may be dealing with on a daily basis may be more difficult and unusual than the stuff we all have to deal with. The point is that characters are like us in the sense that they exist as part of a community or world. Even a story about a total loner presupposes that the person had progenitors, that someone somewhere designed and built their spaceship, that there is a world out there filled with people that, for whatever reason, they don’t want to be around. (Obviously, you can think of exceptions to this: sole survivor of an apocalypse, for example, but even so, that character’s life, such as it is, was impacted by the thoughts and actions of other people, so again, there are always more people, doing more things, than are immediately apparent in even the most isolated and constrained microcosms.)

As a writer, you can never have too many characters. Even before this challenge I kept squirreled away in assorted files character sketches and lists of names. I need to do a bit of organizing to bring the new files together with the older one, to make sure I can find someone when I need them! As much as possible, I tagged character sketches with projects they could fit into, and now I need to divide my little village of fictional people, sending them to various folders. Eventually they’ll be polished up and written properly, then you’ll get to meet them!

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