I don’t know how you make up people, but here’s how I do it. First off, when I say “make up people”, I actually mean create a character. I’m of the mind that writers simply call it “character creation” because it sounds more sane. It’s not. At least for me. But I get into it, so I suppose I enjoy it. Here’s how it goes for me.
Let me make clear I’m speaking of intentional characters. These are the ones I’ve intended to be in the story from the get-go. There are other characters that sort of end up happening because plot, but I always try to give them the love they deserve too. This just isn’t about them. The intentional ones get lots of time. I usually first look for a model for this person. An actor, a performance, an actual person, another fictional character. But it helps me to have a visual model. They may experience some drift over time, but once I “cast” my character in my mind it’s a go. And characters that refuse to find a model are infuriating.
I do the written exercises. I write several pages of their biographies, and I do Syd Field three “P’s”. That is: What are their Personal lives like? What is their Profession? And what do they do in Private? My personal favorite is what they do in private. What one does when one is alone is probably more telling than anything else. Rocky Balboa tells stories to his turtles. Gollum talks to himself. Dexter kills people. Walter White just sits there, thinking. And often revealing what a character does on their own is where some wonderful story telling sneaks in.
Obviously, this requires a lot of thought. And how I deal with it is role-playing. I consider my self as this other person and pretend to be them. I do this normally while going about my daily routine. I imagine what they would say or do in various situations. How they walk. What their speech patterns would be like. How they act and react. And if you ever catch me seeming not myself, it’s because I’m trying that person out on you.
I’ll tell you what though, it’s more difficult to be some people over others. I’ve written so many different people from different times and circumstances, I’m not even going to list them. And, yes, of course they all get a lot of me. But, to my mind, finding what’s “like me” in a character is finding what makes them human, to my mind. It’s what makes them sympathetic. And even a “bad guy” ought to have that. But the worst are the ones that reflect back on “like me” something I’m not overly-keen to see.
My latest fellow is probably the worst of a fairly varied lot that includes both the innocent and the wise, as well as the murderous and distasteful, and a lot of places in between. But I just had to pick a depressive this time. It’s very difficult to be objective with someone who is already “like me” in a way that I’m less than excited to admit. He’s a lot worse off than myself in some ways, and I pity the guy. But it’s like looking at your pores in a magnifying mirror, or trying on bathing suits under florescent lights. Uncomfortable.
So even if my carriage of myself may be off, or I may seem a bit down. Don’t fret. I’m taking an honest look at man who of himself, would have this to say, “Think of me as one who died young. All of my life might have been.” And remember that I’m giving him a lot more life than he ever expected or would have wanted. So, he’s in for a lot more pain than he already has. Torture time! Poor guy.
Maybe if I can pity him, I can do the same for others who may or may not be a bit “like me.” Maybe I can even find room in my heart for just me.