Sunday, January 25, 2009

Say what?

Oh hi!

Yeah... I know. I'm supposed to post on Fridays. Blame the piskies in my computer. Or possibly the troll that lives under the blogger-bridge that kept eating my post. Now let us never speak of this again.


Character building.

Never done it. Don't know how.

In fact, I am somewhat in awe of writers who know anything about their characters before they start in on a story. And more than a little jealous. Sounds like it might make things a whole lot easier.

Early on in my writing career (and waaay before it could justifiably be called same), I tried using all the cool tools to come up with my characters. I tried character fact-sheets. I tried interviewing characters. Writing letters to me from them. Charts. Geaneaologies. Background dossiers. Free-writing in "voice". Cutting pictures from magazines. Basing character-traits on friends...

These attempts at pre-creating character versimilitude will never see the light of day. I have fed them to the fire. They are buried deep in the earth. Committed to the vast endless silences of the little wastebasket icon on my computer desk-top.

I just can't do it. I can't pre-write characters.

Some of the time, on those lucky rare occasions, a character will appear to me fully formed, leaping from my brain and directly into the story like Athena from the forehead of Zeus (often with accompanying headache!). That happened with all of Bob's scenes in WONDROUS STRANGE. I didn't have to do a dang thing!

Those are the happy few.

The others? Well, mostly, all I can do is sit there and commit impolite acts the like of which my mother told me never to do. I eavesdrop. I listen in on conversations between total (to me, certainly, and sometimes to each other) strangers... and I transcribe what's being said. Oh - not for real, Mom. I'm not sitting on the subway stretching an ear, for crying out loud. (In fact, private conversations in public send me diving into my knapsack to retrieve my iPod so that I don't have to listen!)

No - what I mean is, when I'm writing a character, the only way I can get to know them is through what they tell me as the story progresses. And the most useful information always comes in the form of their conversations with the other characters (especially when they're not necessarily saying what they're thinking!).

For me, once a character starts to speak, then the rest of the information starts to fill itself in. I gather and glean and sift and write back and forth through the manuscript and tweak and alter and build personalities as I learn about them through what they say to others.

That's about it. It never happens pre-story for me. For me, plot and characters are inseperable and - as I'm discovering in the edit process right now on book 2 - when something in the plot isn't quite working, it's because I didn't get something quite right with a character. And that means, I have to go back and - metaphorically speaking - pull up a chair next to their table at the corner cafe, and listen in just a little more carefully to those private conversations!

It all feels very naughty. But it seems to work for me!


Jillian Cantor said...

I love that metaphorical eavesdropping! It's fun to be a writer :-).

Tracy Madison said...

Our process is so similar! And yes, I love the metaphorical eavesdropping.

Maureen Lipinski said...

I agree--my characters don't really come to life until AFTER the writing is done. Even in revisions, they tend to change quite a you're not alone!