On Creating Characters for the Variant Series
When I sat down to write the story of Alexandra Parker and her strange, Variant-filled world, I realized fairly quickly that the novel would be just as much about Alex, as it would be about her newfound friends.
At first, Revival (the first novel in the series) had no plot. Not even a rough outline. There was no destination for the story and there were no real characters to speak of. All I knew about the book that Revival would eventually become was a single moment, pulled from a scene that takes place a few chapters into the tale—an image of a young girl running through a burning bookstore, a wall of flames licking at her back as she fled down the aisle with no way out.
I didn’t know who Alex was, back then… but I knew a lot about the guy she’d find waiting for her at the top of that black spiral staircase in the far corner of the store.
Declan O’Connell—the blonde-haired, blue-eyed jumper who was equal parts bad boy and smartass—was a character I’d been forming in my mind for a long, long time, but had yet to find a home for. Going into the project, Declan was the only character that I knew inside and out. Or at least, the only one I thought I knew.
As the story progressed, Declan’s character grew and matured in my mind, pieces of his backstory falling into place and revealing the source of his bad attitude and surly disposition. By the time I wrote the last page of Revival, I understood Declan in a way I never could have imagined during those opening chapters.
The truth is, I don’t create my characters so much as discover them as I work their stories onto the page.
All of the characters in the Variant series came to me in varying forms of completeness. A name here, a face there, a quirk or two to distinguish them, an important bit of backstory that forever changed their life or altered their personality… And often, I didn’t know what a characters would do or say in a situation until I’d put them in that situation and let the character speak for herself.
In the case of Declan’s younger sister Kenzie, I had a crystal clear image of her physical appearance before I even decided on her name. In fact, her name was chosen because it was the only name I could think of that fit the picture in my head.
But Kenzie’s personality?
Well, I think it’s fair to say that I was not expecting the girl who eventually showed up on the page. Kenzie was a pleasant surprise, but a surprise nonetheless. My early thoughts about the girl she might turn out to be ended up completely different from the caffeine-addicted teen that eventually worked her way into the story.
For me, that journey of discovery—of learning to understand my characters better as the story progresses—is one of my favorite things about writing. By allowing the characters to develop naturally, I’m just as surprised as the reader is by who and what they eventually turn out to be. It’s an enjoyable process and something I honestly can’t get enough of. The further into the Variant series I get, the better I get to know these characters—and the more I grow to love them.