One of the established facts of writing is that characters are born of the people we know or have encountered. Some are almost exact duplicates of individuals. Some are composites constructed from several similar people. There are a few, however, who are total inventions. The duplicates are those who are the result of knowing a very strong personality, whose actions and reactions can be predicted. The composites are created by drawing on the most pronounced characteristics of several people, or those characteristics which fit with the type of character we need. The invented characters are more complicated in their origins.
It’s not uncommon for writers to create their heroes by drawing on elements of their own personalities. That’s not to say that they are heroic or uncommonly gifted in some way. In fact, there’s a certain Walter Mitty aspect to these characters. They represent deep wishes that we were more like the characters we create. We would like to be more heroic, braver and more able than we are. It’s a way for us to achieve things which we could never achieve in real life.
Another form of invented character represents a type we would be attracted to. They are idealised to suit us, and then expanded upon to give them more depth. These are more prone to acquiring faults of character. The faults are born of a certain pessimism. We expect to be disappointed by people. To prove that our expectations are accurate, our heroes will develop flaws, often as a result of some dark secret or a terrible event in their past.
There’s another type of character I’ve not mentioned. These come not from real people or ourselves, except as modifiers, perhaps. They are inspired by characters from literature we have read. These, unfortunately, often tend to be shallower than the other types. They are also dangerous to use, as they can be recognisable because they haven’t been redeveloped sufficiently. I prefer to avoid such characters, but there is always a risk that they will creep in somewhere.
The principal characters should have greater depth than the rest, but it can be useful to have more rounded characters who can appear only briefly. These equate to those people we meet and who have a profound effect upon us but only remain in our lives a very short time. These transients can even be used as links, popping up unexpectedly in various circumstances.
Portraying our characters is the hardest task in writing. Landscapes are easy, being either real or total fantasy. A satisfying character is a much harder thing to create. Characters can actually go through more changes than any other aspect of a story, evolving constantly. In fact, they can evolve to such an extent that they may force some degree of rewriting to accommodate their new aspects.