When I was in high school, I was really into Final Fantasy IV (Square Enix, 1991), which brought me to a fantastic webcomic called Wayrift. It was one of those formative pieces of media for me, mostly because the authors and the associated fanbase talked about characters in a way that made sense to me. I’ve mentioned that I’ve always “grown” my stories by treating them like people instead of machines, which is a common writing technique.
The Sygnus Stories, though, talked about the characters like the authors felt like they were real, which appealed to 17 year old me, and still appeals to 23 year old me today. The reasons are slightly different, I think. As a lonely autistic 17 year old who had been abandoned by their friends only recently, it really appealed to me to think of my characters as people in order to provide some comfort to myself at a time when I was extremely lonely. Now it’s because I’ve found that figments, or muses as I have come to call them, are more than just a comfort technique, but treating my characters like people helps me to write my stories better.
I’ve been told that my view on this is a bad thing, actually, not just because an author needs to be impartial, but because people who think the way I do use our mindset to justify not having more diverse casts. I find, however, that my muses help to keep me more honest about matters of diversity. If I’ve made them the wrong race or gender, something won’t feel right about them until I change it, as if they’re telling me that this is not how they really are and trying to guide me onto the correct path. No matter what the actual psychological reason for that is, I’ve come to care very little, relying on the getting to know you method for all the characters I meet.
I do what comes naturally, according to the characters. They have a set of beliefs and complex thoughts and feelings, not a set of predetermined traits that I wrote in a character bible somewhere. I may not know my character’s shoe size (though there’s certainly nothing wrong with using other methods as long as they work for you), but I find that I do know more about their intimate thoughts and feelings than I might otherwise. If people are more than a series of traits on a piece of paper, I see no reason why my characters shouldn’t be the same, why they shouldn’t expand beyond the paper with my imagination. Whatever I learn about them can lend to adding vibrancy to them and their world, giving them depth that they might not have had otherwise. It’s so much easier for me to ask them questions and get answers, to listen to their feelings and thoughts, than it is for me to try to divine something from a series of traits I assigned them.
I suppose that’s part of why I’m grateful to Sygnus and its authors. I wouldn’t be the writer I am today without them and those long defunct forum discussions about whether or not it was okay to feel the way that I did about my characters. Back then it may have been Lusiel (who will forever by one of the princes of my heart and whom I plan to return to someday), but Wayrift caused me to grow, to recognize that there was more to looking at written works, and more to writing, than what I had learned in school.
That’s why, no matter what your method is for character development, whether you’re a muse talker or a list maker or an advocate for character bibles, I hope you think of the things that caused you to travel down your chosen path fondly. We all have reasons for being the way we are and WRITING the way we do. Authors are unique people, so I think it’s important that we recognize that there is no one correct way to be a writer, just as we know that there’s no one correct way to be a person, and that characters don’t have to be good people in order to be interesting.