When I was six I had a friend called Charlie.
Charlie ate dinner with me. He sat on the swing beside me as we kicked our legs and tried to reach the sky. He comforted me when I had bad dreams. And, of course, he read books with me. Yep, Charlie was my closest friend. And the best thing about him was that only I could see him.
Charlie was my imaginary friend. And he was a mouse.
Why am I talking about Charlie? Because, in a weird way, Charlie was my first fully formed character. I knew what he looked like (brown fur with black whiskers). Where he lived (the skirting board under my bed). His family (mum, dad, twenty-five siblings) and his likes/dislikes (liked cheese, hated sprouts which, funny enough, so did I).
He had everything we associate with creating a character, but I never wrote about him. He existed for me alone. I guess when you are 6 you are selfish like that ;)
So I come to my point... Our WIPs are like the same.
The idea comes to us. The little, whispering voice begging for their story to be told. And we write our first drafts. We share their journey. Their hopes and fears. We know their flaws better than anyone. We hold them close, sharing them with a chosen few until we send them on their way to an agent (and, hopefully, a world of readers who will love them like we do).
That spark of character building is always there as children. It is in the games we play. In the truths we bend so we don't get into trouble ("It wasn't me, it was....."). As adults we sometimes forget the innocence of childhood. The stories that flowed like water through us.
The task as an aspiring author is to catch those sparks, craft them and share them. Because it's only by being read do characters really live.
'Stories were different, though: they came alive in the telling. Without a human voice to read them aloud, or a pair of wide eyes following them by torch light beneath a blanket, they had no real existence in the world.... Once someone started the read them, they could begin to change. They could take root in the imagination and transform the reader. Stories wanted to be read.'
The Book Of Lost Things, John Connolly.
And Charlie? One day Charlie left. I was sad but it was the right thing for him to do. He met a nice lady mouse, and they got married and had babies. He never calls, he never writes but, wherever he is, I hope he is happy.