Character Driven Stories

Aug 18, 2023 by HL Bernabe, in Writing Related Stuff
Paisley Dell
Paisley Dell

My writing process involves me coming up with the characters first. What makes them special? What is their backstory? Who is this person? Then I take the main characters and try to see how they fit together. How would this person know or come to know this other one? Are they friends? enemies? Do they distrust one another? Then I create the surrounding plot.

Even when I gm’d tabletop roleplaying games, I used this approach. I would tell the players what time period and basic setting I was looking at: wild west Texas, medieval Spain, modern day motorcycle club. That sort of thing. And then I would have them make up their characters, get wild with the backstory and flaws. And once I had all the characters from the people who were playing, I would weave a story around what they had given me from the characters they had developed. It was great, because then the players got invested in their characters, and that made it more fun.

For my work in progress, Cooking Up Magick, I first came up with an idea during a DnD game. I thought it would be fun to have a halfling chef who didn’t know a thing about magick. She goes out on a quest to learn different cuisines, and along the way, somehow gets imbued with power and becomes a sorcerer. But she doesn’t know squat about spells, rituals, or any of that stuff, and she has no idea how to channel or use her power. So she lets off little sparks, things levitate, and in times of high drama, weird shit happens. I thought that sounded like it would be hilarious.

The other guys agreed it sounded fun, but we were in the middle of a campaign already. Then the pandemic happened, our campaign finished, and we never met again while the lockdown was going on. I played a Tabaxi house cat rogue named Rayleon Whipclaw in that game. Think Puss n Boots, without the boots. I had ungodly luck with her, and as a result, she had a seriously big head, since she was always saving everybody else’s butts, while rarely getting a scratch on her. She even got eaten by a purple worm and survived. TNT, baby!

Anyway, that chef character was still percolating in my brain. And I loved Whipclaw. I thought maybe it would be fun to incorporate them into a story. Maybe write a book. The pandemic seemed like it would never end, and I was bored. I tried to figure out other characters that my halfling Paisley Dell would meet. I came up with the idea of the half-orc Gunur Yurg, who had daddy issues, and a serious chip on his shoulder. There are some hilarious things I wrote about half-orc anatomy in the book. I won’t say them here, because I don’t want to spoil it.

It was my kiddo who suggested that I have the half-orc and the halfling fall in love. At first, I was like, “But he’s 3 ½ feet taller than her!” and “Their cultures are so different!” and then a neon lights started flashing over my head as I realized the story potential there. So much to work with! Have I ever mentioned how brilliant my kid is?

Over time, I came up with the cast, their backstories, their personalities, and then wove them together into the books. Well, first I actually wrote 16 episodes of an hour-long show, but I realized that didn’t have the level of detail I wanted. So I turned those into drafts for the first three novels. I expect by the time I’m done, I’ll probably have five or six completed books. I think in the coming months, I will feature one or two characters a month in my blog and do a brief biography of them, so you can get to know them a little better.