Characters and How They Affect Writing

I’m so excited to take you all behind the scenes on what it’s like for me to write and how my writing process goes! For my first post, we’ll start with my lovely characters. Y’all may think I’m crazy after reading this. As I typed it, I couldn’t help but wonder why in the world am I exposing this much? I sound insane! Oh well, that’s how the writing magic happens. So here are some things you can all learn about my characters from this post–How are they created? Are they based off anyone in real life? Do they change along the way? There’s so much that is going to be covered.

How are my characters created? You all know that famous which came first question, the chicken or the egg? So, which comes first for me? The story or the characters? Well, I create characters before a story, to an extent. I may have to add in some minor characters as I write a story. Generally speaking though, I have so many characters in my head, but I don’t know where they are going to end up yet. When a story or somewhat of a plotline come to mind, I then have to figure out which characters are going to end up in the story. It’s almost like casting for a movie, I have to cast my characters to a story. The only difference is they only go to one story, where actors are cast in several movies. Let’s take Pending Return for example. That will be my biggest example for this post since it’s my only published novel…so far :). Mitch and his brothers were characters in my head, so was Steve, and Tehgo. However, did you know they weren’t all originally planned to be in the same story? The stars of Pending Return were supposed to be Mitch with his family and Steve with his family. Tehgo had her own story, but as I began writing, I realized she was supposed to be part of Pending Return. For at least ten years, Tehgo had been a character in my head, and I tried writing lots of different stories with her. Same with Mitch and Steve. Long behold, they ended up coming together in the same story. Go figure! Needless to say, a different character will be taking Tehgo’s place in the other story. I don’t know who yet.

Do I know what they look like? Absolutely. Some are inspired by actors, because I like to picture my story as a movie, all the way down to the soundtrack! So who do the characters from Pending Return look like? Mitch is inspired by a current day Cole Sprouse, Steve is inspired by Tanner Buchanan, Tehgo is inspired by Miranda Cosgrove, Ken is inspired by Sopranos James Gandolfini (Rest In Peace), and Detective Leah Blake is inspired by Viola Davis.

How did I get a name like Tehgo? Tehgo (pronounced Tay-go) is considerably the female lead in Pending Return. Where does her name come from though? No, I don’t know someone named Tehgo. There was a scene in a movie I saw years ago that inspired Tehgo! I won’t go into detail to avoid spoilers of her, but the movie was Everybody’s Fine. There is a scene towards the end of that movie that inspired Tehgo, she’s not 100% based off it, but she is inspired by it. I couldn’t figure out a name for her though. Nothing fit! Then, in a weird turn of events, I had a dream of that scene. It hit hard, and her name was being called out. I woke up, and her name was figured out. Now there was another story she was a part of around that time, and she had a middle and last name that turned into a phrase when written backwards. So, there was really no creative formula to come up with Tehgo, it just came to me in a dream, literally.

Are my characters based off anyone in real life? Okay, short answer is no. I try to avoid that. However, I do base them off people who I wish were in my life. Mainly an older-brother-figure. I’m the oldest in my family, so never had one. In Pending Return, Ryan was that older-brother-figure. In my upcoming novel, the character Jack takes that role.

Are there details about characters I like knowing whether it gets mentioned in the book or not? Yes, definitely. Birthdays and favorite movies. These are details that are important to me, so I like to establish them. Here are the birthdays for the characters of Pending Return.

Mitch-November 6
Steve-October 2
Tehgo-December 1
Ryan-May 6
Tyler-January 2
Bryce-February 27

Here’s my chance to tell you to follow my Instagram account for favorite movies. I like to post clues for anyone to guess the movies 🙂

Do my characters change along the way? To an extent. Do my characters change? At least personality wise, no. However I created them is how they stay. I’ve had other kinds of changes though. For example, Steve from Pending Return originally had a little sister. When I first created Steve a decade ago, I also created a little sister for him. Mitch and Steve were very protective of her, even though she didn’t live the same hard life as her brother. She just didn’t fit for this story though. There wasn’t really a good place to fit her in the plot that I liked. I guess in a way, you could say Tehgo unexpectedly took over that role. Not exactly as the sister was supposed to be, but Tehgo filled in a missing gap. Another change that came from the same story was character names! The Karksin brothers were originally Brian, Wayne, Chris, and Michael. Why did they change? Well, I got married and gained a mother-in-law named Kris. I know, different gender and spelling. Still, ever since then, I’ve seen the name as more feminine and just couldn’t go with it. So Chris became Mitch. It could’ve stopped there, right? Nope, because now the entire family wasn’t sitting right with me. After ten years, the names weren’t working anymore. Go to Wayne. I didn’t like the name for his personality. It didn’t fit right. Wayne became Ryan. Now the two oldest are sitting as Brian and Ryan, and that sounds like twin names! So I barely changed Brian to become Bryce. I couldn’t leave Michael out of the bunch, so I changed his to Tyler.

There was a change in this upcoming novel similar with Steve’s sister. There were two sisters that were supposed to be in the story, but they were removed. The way they were going to be placed in the story didn’t make sense anymore with how things were moving along. In fact, that meant multiple scenes were taken away since the sisters weren’t going to be in it anymore. A bigger scene replaced them!

What do my characters do to a story? Remember how I said in the intro that you may think I’m crazy? This is the part where that comes in (well if me creating birthdays and favorite movies for my characters didn’t already do that). My characters don’t just simply exist in the story. Believe it or not, characters completely take over. I could write the entire outline of a story and each character’s role in it. I could narrow down the details of what the characters have to say and how they are supposed to react to each big event of the story. It won’t stay that way though. It’s almost pointless to put so much planning into it. It’s not just because of editing little errors or rewording how they say something. It happens before I even initially write it down. I could be beginning to write a conversation and these characters will just take over that conversation, and it goes a completely different direction. In turn, that sometimes takes the story on a different route. Then everything I had planned in an outline is taken away. I place my characters in stories, but they truly decide how the story is going to play out. They surprise me sometimes. I know, I know. It sounds insane (I am a crazy person, so…). It’s absolutely true though. My characters are like real people to me. They might as well be sitting on the couch with me telling me the story, and I just write it down for them.

Are there characters I like writing more than others? Naturally, yes. This isn’t about who is a good guy vs. a bad guy though. Some are just more enjoyable to write. So why would I include characters that aren’t as enjoyable to write? Well, just like I said in the above paragraph, characters take over. I can’t help if characters are supposed to be involved. In Pending Return, I didn’t generally like writing Mitch’s dad. I don’t believe it’s even mentioned in the book, but his name is Patrick. There just wasn’t anything much to write for him, but the brothers had to have a dad. I couldn’t just never write about him either. He is described as being neglectful from Mitch’s point of view, so I had to write some scenes to show that.

Then the other side of the spectrum is some characters are more challenging to write than others. I do enjoy the challenge. It’s not the same as a dislike to write though. I didn’t like writing Mitch’s dad, but he wasn’t hard to write. Now, how in the world can a character be hard to write when I already know everything about them? Like I’ve said, and I’ll keep saying it until y’all believe me, the characters control things more than I do. Yes, I can know everything about a character, but that doesn’t mean their personality is something I’m a pro at. I believe Ryan may have been a challenge in Pending Return. He was a gentle soul, and just knew how to handle everybody. When I would get to certain conversations or situations with him, I had to really put some thought into how he would actually react or handle things. There was a reason everyone liked and trusted Ryan, and it didn’t just happen like that. He clearly has a reputation, and I had to write him in a way to prove that reputation. So, it was a challenge, but I loved writing him, especially his interactions with Mitch. In my upcoming novel, Aiden is becoming my challenge, because I’m not used to his personality.

What can I tell you about the characters in the upcoming novel? The main character Aiden is not at all like Mitch, the main character from Pending Return. Mitch likes to go out and have fun, has a lot of energy, doesn’t care what anyone thinks, and is ready to stick up for his best friend regardless how that makes him look in the end. Aiden is a lot more reserved, doesn’t know how to stick up for himself, and can easily be pushed down.

Aiden also has a little sister, and you could call her my alter ego. I would strive to have as much confidence as she does! I also feel like there wasn’t a lot of characters in Pending Return. Every character was significant to the story and had a big role. In this new novel, there appear to be quite a few more characters. Some have big roles and some have small roles, but they all have something for the story even if it’s only one scene.

Conclusion: Let’s be real, my characters are my imaginary friends and that’s why I sound crazy. I love them though! Feel free to comment or even ask questions for me to answer in my next post! Speaking of which, what do you want to hear about in my next post? What part of my writing process shall I dig into next? 🙂

If you are interested in Pending Return, you can purchase the paperback right off my site here under the Books tab! Or there is a kindle edition on Amazon, just click the link below.

Feel free to subscribe!

-S.A. Gensch

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