My process for creating characters tends to be…erratic. My main character, from which most of my secondaries stem, sprang from a very confusing tenure on an RP forum(don’t ask). My favorite secondary was inspired by my cousin and my favorite movie protagonist. A few came from who-knows-where in the recesses of my brain. But no matter where the characters came from…none of them seem particularly keen on listening to me.
My main villain began as the helpful, upright, kindly uncle of said character, but then decided–all on his own, mind you–that he was going to be the villain of the piece and that was that, regardless of the author’s feelings on the subject.
The author, while decidedly irked with his antics, has given up on convincing him otherwise.
Actually, that seems to be the pattern for most of my characters that actually succeed in becoming 3-dimensional. Author carefully creates character. Outlines character’s life and behavior down to the minutest detail. Character says “Ain’t no way,” pulls a 360, and does whatever he/she very well wants to do. As in the case of the protagonist who has rejected two potential love interests thus far.
It can be immensely frustrating. However, it’s gratifying, too. You know your creations have come alive when they start taking matters into their own hands. I think it’s the way it should be. In fact, if you aren’t discovering new, unexpected things about your characters…you may have a problem. If you can easily predict their next move, so can your readers. And that doesn’t make for a good story.
The primary sign that your characters are dead? You. If you’re having trouble writing, if the whole project just doesn’t feel right, if trying to work on it just makes you want to pull your hair out, look at your characters. Switch a few roles around, subtract a few and add others. You’ll be surprised.