When I was six -and probably the same height I am now being tiny - I had a friend who was called Charlie and we had lots of adventures together.
Charlie ate dinner with me, 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 read books with me. Yup, Charlie was my closest friend and the best thing about him was that only I could see him.
Yes, Charlie was my imaginary friend, and he was a mouse.
So why am I talking about Charlie? Because Charlie was my first fully formed character. I knew what he looked like (brown with black whiskers). Where he lived (the skirting board under my bed). His family (mum, dad, twenty-five siblings) and his likes and dislikes (liked cheese, hated sprouts which, funny enough, so did I).
He had backstory, flaws and things he did that I told him off for. But I didn't write him down, he existed for me alone. When you are six-years-old you are selfish like that ;)
So I come to my point.
I guess our wip are like that. The idea comes to us, the voice that whispers to us and begs their story to be told. Eventually it screams so loudly we have to obey. We begin and write our first drafts.
We share their journey, hopes and fears, and we know their flaws better than anyone. As writers we hold them close and share them with only a few until the day we feel ready to 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, the truths we bend so we don't get into trouble ("It wasn't me, it was....."). As adults sometimes we forget the innocence of childhood and the stories that flow like water through us.
The task as an aspiring author is to catch those sparks, craft them and share them. Because 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.