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A Frequently Asked Question - How I Decide On Which Character is a Main, and Which Character Is Not

There's a question that gets kicked around often.  It's either asked in a writer's group (or two) and other times it's asked by readers.  That question is:

Kristan, how do you come up with realistic characters, and how do you choose who among those characters will be the main or primary character?

That's a many headed question, but since it is related I feel very comfortable in answering... I have no idea.



Characters are like real people (and in some cases, particularly in The Kingdom of Walden series, they were based on real people) to me.  Every single last character I write has a complete backstory, history, and personality as well as a job... outside of being a character in a book.  Even the minor characters have that same detail and care poured into them.  If they have a name, they have a certain degree of realness--the same potential as a main character to have their own story written about them.

So, why don't they?

Firstly, that would make for a very long book and the story would literally go nowhere.  Secondly, and I've had enough readers overwhelmed by how many unique characters (with names!) there are in my books that adding even more of them in would prove impossible to keep track of.  Maybe, one day, I will post a series of "side trips" in the Kingdom of Walden where these stories also get told, but there's still a few more books in the primary story arcs to finish before that happens.

That's the secret to realistic characters (from the minor ones to the major ones).  Every single person in the books has a story of their own.  You don't always see it or read about them in the books but, since the question is popular, you can all definitely feel that the character has that backstory just waiting to be told.  That character feels real to you... and feels unique.  And they should.

So, the question leads to the next question, which is, "How do you pick which ones will be the major characters?"

Well, in some cases it's because my beta readers and editors felt more attached to certain characters over others.  In other cases, one character is either merged with another or the second one is pushed to the side because of how often (as it does in real life) because there's already someone present.  Others just worked better in relation to others than a few did.

One literally told me, whether I liked it or not, that he wasn't satisfied with being the "Obi-Wan" of the book series, survived the moment where he was actually originally written off, and took over... and that was that.

Yes, in the original version of After Oil, Derek Moss died of pneumonia not even a third of the way into the book.  His death served to spur on the others to survive and pull themselves together to make the push to Lively to make sure that the next winter they wouldn't lose any others.  The character, not the person that inspired the character, stubbornly refused to stay dead and the story kept stalling as if it were missing someone until I finally backtracked, tried it with him alive... and then the rest is history.

Ironically, had I not made that one change, there would have been no Kingdom of Walden series as the books would have ended after the one book.

You, the readers, decided you liked the first book so much that I wrote two more, which ended up actually being four because the third book was actually two books... and now I'm writing two more after Ghostwalker simply because of one character who decided he was going to keep breathing.

I'm not complaining.  This is actually a prime example of how characters can sidetrack a plan.  A drastic example, sure.

It really depends.  

People have likes and dislikes.  Certain characters are just more likable, or memorable than others.  And sometimes, even despite that, they just work better with others... or in cases where working with others is an option... work better alone.

It's like asking why some people always end up in the news.  I just get a feeling for a character and I run with it.  If the story falters, I try it with another character.  If that character makes the story shine, for whatever reason, I run with it. (*cough* Prime example is still Derek)


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