Much has been made about the chronological discrepancies in the Sherlock Holmes stories. As I'm reading the first collection of short stories, Leslie Klinger, in the New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, notes all the problems in the timeline. It's lucky Conan Doyle didn't have a rabid, online fan base to nitpick every new story like we do now.
Pulp author Robert E. Howard conceived of his most famous character, Conan, in 1932, while traveling around Texas. While I haven't read any but the first, "The Phoenix on the Sword," I know enough to write that Howard wrote and published the Conan stories as they occurred to him. That's why, if you read a collection of Conan stories arranged by publication date, the great barbarian is a king in one story, a young warrior in the next, and so on. One writer somewhere stated that the publication order of the Conan stories is like Howard telling you stories while sitting around a campfire.
The thing is, unless a writer makes a conscious effort to have certain characters firmly fleshed out before the first word is ever written, the process of writing reveals aspects of a character the writer never thought about. In addition, an author might have certain ideas about a character ready to go when the first word is written and, yet, never return to them in the course of writing the stories. Such is the case with the new Sherlock Holmes movie, the first Holmes novel, and the fact that Holmes was listed as an expert boxer.
I encountered something akin to this type of thing recently in my own writing. Last year, in a one-sitting fit, I created Calvin Carter, a railroad detective. I wrote his literal first adventure as a detective and the good folks at Beat to a Pulp thought the piece entertaining enough to publish it. You can find the link over there on the right. The things I had Carter say and do just came to me, as my fingers pecked at the keyboard. I can't say where they emerged only that the sheer amount of stuff I've consumed over the forty-year span of my life embeds things that just bubble up from time to time.
When it came time for me to write Carter's second story--now completed and in the editing process--I realized a template had been created for him. I hadn't set out to create one--like Charles Ardai did with Gabriel Hunt--and, frankly, still haven't. I knew one thing: the way he revealed his deductions was both intellectual and slightly show-offy (how's that for a fancy word?). I knew, as I approached that particular scene in Story #2 that Carter would present the facts in much the same way. And so he did. Interestingly, in the writing of Story #2, Carter revealed a few particulars about himself I didn't know. I've decided to start taking notes as I interact with Carter and create for him the Carter Bible, the tome where I can collect all the passing references I write for him. It'll be great fun to look back on in the future, especially if he takes me in a different direction.
How do you create your characters? Do you have them fully fleshed out ahead of time or do they grow and change as you write?