Writers can struggle with their characters for an almost unlimited number of reasons. I have two that take the forefront for me.
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First, I have to be careful not to dump in a whole lot of characters. I have a tendency to want to fill my book with interesting, but unimportant characters. So I have to take a look at each new character I bring in and make sure they are important to the overall story I’m trying to tell about my main character, because really, it’s all about her. What are these characters going to bring to the picture, either in support of her or in support of the conflict? Sometimes, I’ll write a character I just LOVE and it’s hard to cut those, so I usually try to make those work.
Other times, I’ll write a character that I don’t care for and that one will end up on the cutting room floor. In my very first draft of TWICE SWORN, I had a ghost named Kat (note: there are no ghosts in the new version). She died young and violently and latched onto my main character … somehow. I had no backstory for that and no interest in writing it (warning sign #1). She also disappeared after Chapter 3, never to be seen again (warning sign #2). So I didn’t feel bad about cutting her – she was annoying anyway.
I have a lot of characters in Twice Sworn and I’m very careful to flesh them out and make sure they will have relevance. The problem I’m wondering about – the book is not meant to be a single book. It’s really meant to be a series and some of the characters I’m introducing won’t have much of a role in this book, but down the road, hoo boy! I have stories already plotted for them. But I’m also being careful to give this book an ending that makes sense for a book ending, and not leave people with a cliffhanger.
Hopefully, my characters I’ve introduced will be so intriguing that people will be dying to learn about them in the future, either in shorts or other novels in this series.
My second issue is around character appearance. I’m terrible at describing them. I’m great at fleshing out their personalities and making sure their dialogue makes sense and flows well, but when it comes to physical descriptions, I’m the pits. I even have pictures of each character I’m introducing (even if they are just off-handedly mentioned in this book and will play a role in the next), so I have some reference material, but alas, that doesn’t really help me describe them. Here’s an example of Calypso. I know I mention the mythological creature, but don’t get too hung up on that — it’s a bit of backstory about her that may be true, but is probably not. The Asura have been known to make things up.
When she finally came into the room, I was taken aback. I had been picturing a blond vixen and she was the opposite of that. She had jet black hair that came down to the middle of her back. Her eyes were so dark, they were almost black. Her skin was pale, like she didn’t get much sun. She wore understated make-up, a knee-length magenta skirt and a white blouse, buttoned up all the way. The mythological creature who seduced Odysseus would not have been my first guess.
This is how I generally handle description of my characters. Now, here’s a picture of a model I found that inspired what she looks like in my head:
In her actions and words, I think I present the essence of that beautiful creature in the picture above very well. But my initial descriptions are so lacking to me. It’s probably something I’m going to edit to death, until it’s just awful.