As a kid, I had a slew of imaginary friends. There was Toby, who was a bit of a jerk and quite mischievous, until he fell out of our car window while on the highway and moved to Texas. Following Toby, there was Toad, who lived in the forest behind my house and always wore a green Hawaiin shirt. Toad led to others, like Mandy, who had 15 siblings, all with detailed personalities of their own.
Eventually, I grew out of the imaginary friends stage, at least in terms of talking to them and acting like they were real people. I still had people I created in my head sometimes though, people that I interacted with in little fantasies whenever I was daydreaming. Sometimes it was an imaginary brother or cousin, and I’d think about what they’d be like and how we would interact if they existed. Sometimes it was something really far-fetched: I’d daydream about what it would be like to be famous, and then imagine a whole cast of imaginary people I’d know if I were, whether they were other stars or personal stylists or agents. These people were sometimes based on real celebrities, other times entirely fictional.
It was a couple years ago, I was working on a story, that I needed a character in one of my novels. My main character was getting a new neighbor, and the new character in question needed to seem innocent and unimportant at first, but reveal a secret crucial to the plot later on. I had no idea what kind of personality would work best for this character, until it randomly occurred to me: one of my imaginary celebrity characters I’d created in a daydream would be perfect for the role. So, I threw her into my plot, simply adding a dark secret to her backstory and making her not famous, but keeping all other aspects of her personality the same. And honestly, she became one of my favorite characters to write about in that story. She seemed to come alive off the page, and I knew how she would react in almost any situation I put her into, because I had spent so long developing her as a character in my daydreams.
Since then, this has become one of my favorite ways to create characters. I’ve heard of other writers saying they “talk” to their characters in their heads before, but I don’t really consider this the same thing. Once I insert a character into a story, I find it hard to have “conversations” with them in my head, or even to visualize them outside of said story. Instead, I just create people in my daydreams, and I imagine how they would fit into my own life. I can have conversations with them about things going on with me, or imagine them in scenarios in my everyday life. They come alive in my head this way, not really as characters, just as imaginary people. But then, when I do happen to need a character in a story, I’ve got a whole stockpile of them already in my head, waiting and ready to go. Of course, I sometimes need to give them a newfound magic power or tailor the character a little to fit the story, but for the most part, they retain their basic personality and skills and qualities. I know exactly how they’ll react to different things, and how they’ll get along with other character in my story, because I’ve already done all that development in my head.
Reading this all over, I realize I probably sound like a lunatic who walks around talking to fake people all day, but I promise I’m not. This is just a variation on that “talk to and get to know your characters thing” that you hear from writers sometimes. And if anyone else does this too, I’d love to know, because I would feel even less crazy then. Character development, man. It can be such a process.