Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Character Study

Working on a new project the past few days. Took it for a test ride in critique group and that went well, so I would say that a new story is birthing itself and I am EXCITED! It is one thing to develop a character in pre-writing and another to put her on the page and see how she comes across. So I asked last night: Is she abrasive? Do you hear her voice? What do you think? Huh? Huh?

Thus today's topic: How do you find out who your characters are?

For me, it's a multi-step process and an on-going one. I can find some of the layers before I start the story. But I have to put my character in action to find the rest. Always, I am surprised. This girl -- my new mc-- surprised me right away. She had a talent-- a hobby if you will-- that she announced about page 2. I do so love it when my characters tug on my sleeve a lot.

If that sounds all 'new-agey' well, so be it. That's how it works. At least for me.

But to the nitty gritty of it, here are the steps I take:

I begin with a logline and a general overview of the book. What is it going to be about? What's the general plot? Who are my characters in general terms? How might I pitch this book to someone? (It's Game of Thrones meets the Simpsons but with less incest and clowns instead of dragons) In case you are satire-deaf, I am just kidding... maybe.... Okay I am. You know what else I think is funny? THIS!  (thank you, Maggie Stiefvater)

Okay, back now:

Then I spend some quality alone time with Ms. Laptop, creating character sketches. I try to go as deep as I can: looks, personality, name (I have secret places I go in search of names. I will not divulge them. Okay, I will divulge one. Nameberry. But that is only ONE, gentle reader. Actually, you might find it fascinating that a LARGE NUMBER of names in current popular YA fiction appear in the hipster names list on Nameberry. Just saying. Yup. Both Hazel and Grace are on that list. Possibly I am alone in finding this fascinating), backstory, hobbies, friends, sibs, parents, likes, dislikes, hopes, dreams, relationships.... As much as I can get. Often much of this changes later. But you have to start somewhere.

Anyway, then I research all the research-y stuff that must be looked up for me to get the general gist of how to, say, write a story set in 1995 in Pittsburgh with a family of one-legged pirates and their 16 dogs and a seal.  I am a research geek, so this never feels like work to me.

I noodle around with titles. I am usually largely horrible at this. Sometimes I nail it right away. Those are usually the times when my editor hates what I came up with.

Eventually, I write. And once the actual voice starts appearing on the page, I learn more.

Rinse, repeat until you get it right.

The basic thing I'm mining for is: Who are you? What do you want? Why do you want it? What matters to you most? What would you do if I ripped that away from you in the most painful way possible, just after you realized what you really wanted? Hmmmm?

I spend very little time on the literary stuff. I just hope it appears out of the ether and once it's there, I play with it in later drafts. i.e.-- I don't say, in this book I will use a stunning metaphor for life. I just hope that the muses present me with one and when I find it, I shake the heck out of it.

How do you find out who our characters are?

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hazel, Grace...Hazel Grace Lancaster! I do hope that was a John Green reference.

Characters, eh? I've always wanted to know with how you come up with characters like, say, Tess or Ethan (you can tell they're my favourites, can't you?). My character revealed her facade to me before she revealed her real self. I'm not sure how to explain it...saying I hear her voice in my head sounds too much like schizophrenia, but that's as close as I can get. Characters hold conversations in my head while I'm on the bus on the way to school, with my earphones in, doing my best to ignore the peasants who also get my bus. But anyway, character. Yes, I thought the real her was the her that she wants people to think she is, until one night when it hit me like a freight train. Editing that project now, and I have bookmarked this post for when I'n fleshing out my new project and an tearing my metaphorical hair out because what's-her-face doesn't have a last name or thingamajig needs a motivation to hate ginger guy or whatever. Oh what fun planning is! *bangs head against wall crying* do you find it's the hardest when you have almost enough information, but are just missing that ONE CRUCIAL THING?