Tuesday, June 21

Character Building . . . Continued



I know Liz and I do this to you pretty frequently here, but the fact is we talk writing a lot. Truthfully, it’s pretty much a continuing conversation either with phone calls, texts, emails, or when we’re fortunate, face-to-face. So you’re going to get more on characters because Liz started me thinking, as she is often wont to do.

How do we build characters? Are they unformed people who need to be placed in a story we can’t get out of our heads, or fully formed characters we can’t get out of our heads so we give them a story? Hmmm . . . interesting question, don’t you think? For me, it’s usually the latter, except the people knocking around in my brain aren’t always fully formed. 

Carrie, my pianist/single mom/photographer in ONCE MORE FROM THE TOP came to me pretty much who she turned into on the page. Except that she developed more layers as I wrote the story of her and Liam’s reunion. Her little fantasy life as a sultry bar pianist showed up because she needed an outlet for the music she’d given up when her son was born. It was too much a part of her and it couldn’t be classical music because . . . well, Liam. Carrie’s character was there when the story started, but as I went through drafts and critiques and beta reads and edits, she grew and developed.

Her best friend, the wise-cracking, uber-sexy Julie Miles, also became a more layered character when she got her own story in SEX AND THE WIDOW MILES. The woman who seemed to have all the answers in Carrie’s book suddenly had no more shits to give as her life got turned upside down by the death of her husband. What we found out about Julie was that the carefree, breezy exterior we saw in OMFTT hid a woman who was lost when the life she’d known for over thirty years was gone. Julie discovered that her own opinions were valuable and that she didn’t have to be a reflection of Charlie.

We build characters by what we throw at them—a secret revealed, a life-changing situation like the death of a loved one or an event that threatens their security. Often, we may know what the conflict will be, but sometimes we’re surprised by how our characters react (especially us pantsers!)—character development can happen even if we’re not ready for it.

A lot of times, one little thing can get in the way of our characters moving the story along—some personality trait that we’re reluctant to release, but it’s stopping the story. In THE SUMMER OF SECOND CHANCES, Eva’s boyfriend, Dale, started out as a very minor character, but when the story got too complicated, he turned out to be the real bad guy. His transformation brought even more complexity to the relationship between Sophie and her mother and that made the story.

Writers, talk to me about how your characters developed or did they come to the table fully formed and ready for action?

7 comments:

  1. Mine do come fully-formed, but those layers that come in can be such surprises--and so much fun. Love the post, Nan.

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    1. Thanks, Liz--you always inspire me!

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  2. I'm a great big echo of you (and Liz!) because I love the surprises that my fully-formed characters throw at me...how they change the story and add depth and reality to it..Great post!

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    1. It is fun to see what they do, even though we think they're totally who they are supposed to be. Thanks, Kristi!

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  3. Yes, my main characters also come to me fully formed. The stories always follow the characters and not the other way around.

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    1. Isn't that funny? My characters come first, too. So many writers have the story first, but I've always had people in my head, knocking around and asking for a story. Thanks for stopping by, Vicki!

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  4. Mine definitely develop as I go along. And sometimes I have to go back and rewrite segments to highlight those changes.

    In the past week, I've returned to a manuscript that is loosely--very loosly--based on the story behind the song, "Hey There, Delilah" by the Plain White Tees. And I realized my main character is type-A control freak and kind of bitchy when things to go as planned while the hero, a musician, is spontaneous and free=-spirited. It's kind of fun to write now that I figured that out. Imagine that. LOL

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