The building of characters has been a slow emergence. Developing my main character was a very different endeavor from forming antagonists. In my series, Braided Dimensions, Kay took shape over time, based partly on a lot of feedback from writing groups. At first she was too snarky, then just lacking depth. Or maybe it was lacked dimension, then got too snarky. It took successive drafts, circling back to the beginning, to start to know her, and of course she kept transforming over the course of three books.
A wonderful magic I discovered early on was that when I introduced a new character—someone who might become a friend—I found out new things about her, by the way she spoke to them, by the ways she revealed herself, or kept things hidden. And a seemingly incidental entrance never remained random. They always became a new vehicle for the development of the plot. The same for objects that arose unexpectedly from my imagination.
I’ve heard writers speak of character profiles you download—whole sets of characteristics consistent with this or that personality. Ready made. Whatever works for you, but for myself, I feel it’s important to test a feature for validity and consistency with my own inner barometer. Maybe that’s what people do—use the list for ideas, then test it with their own sense. I also think writing arises from a deep place and expresses aspects of us, which is another reason I cherish the process.
Creating an antagonist, on the other hand, has erupted in the course of living the story. It has its own unique feeling. As I edge toward the tension, there’s heat: healthy meets unhealthy or destructive, sparks fly. The darkness is compelling; my heart races. This must be another mirror of self—shadow, the need to project inner frictions. Some of my favorite writing has been with a complex character, Galfride. He is dastardly, but also is in part responsible for Kay’s growing strengths. She learns to call across time using runes, to transport herself, to build a diamond lance from a spelled ring in order to fight him off.
If you’re trying to build a real character, go into their feelings, live the scene with them, as them. And don’t expect them to pop off the page the very first time you start to paint them into your story. Advice, in case anyone wants it! Or tell me your own experience of building characters.