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?