Friday, September 24, 2010
9:25 AM | Posted by Lola Sharp | | Edit Post
Elana Johnson, Jen @unedited and Alex are having a Writing Compelling Characters Blogging Experiment today. Here's my little entry.
No matter what genre a reader prefers to read--some want fast-paced action, others want a slower paced voyage, perhaps even a love story--but EVERY reader wants to care about the main character(s).
Compelling characters, I believe, are THE most important part of any story. Without rich, intriguing, believable characters, it doesn't matter what stunning plot or adventure the book may have in store for us. We won't be reading it.
I'm a very character driven writer (and reader) and as such I work hard to bring my characters to life. I want my readers to believe my characters are so real they could smell them, reach out and touch them. I want them to think about them and care about them long after the last page.
So how do I (try to) do this?
I know this may be unusual, (or not?) but my main characters usually come to me out of nowhere, fully formed. It is then up to me to get to know them and understand their journey and motivations. (A lot of my first draft is spent doing exactly that.)
Here is my basic process before starting a novel:
*First, I won't bother starting any process until a character has bugged/niggled/begged me to listen. If I find I can't get him/her/them out of my head and I'm genuinely interested in knowing more...then I know it's time to hang out with them.
*I sit with my notepad (yellow legal pad or spiral notebook) and we chat. I take notes. I ask them about their past and their favorite foods and movies. I ask them about their fears and regrets, their hopes and dreams. But, usually, they tell me to shut up and urge me to get to the story...they have a lot more important things to tell me and show me. Usually they grab me by the arm and say "hurry up, slowpoke, let's roll!".
*This is when I KNOW I'll have to learn the basics about them and their character flaws and favorite movies etc., during the journey. Because now my laptop is open, a new document is open and I'm typing furiously, trying to keep up with their story.
This goes on until I come to the end and have completed a first draft: a beginning, middle and end.
During this rough draft I have come to know my characters quite well and have the basics of what their story is about. I know how they dress and why. I know what they like to eat, and where they live and if they're tidy or a slob or somewhere in between. I know their friends. I know if they have any pets. I know their jobs, economic status and spending habits. In fact, I know most of their habits, good and bad, by the end of my first draft.
Then comes the HARD part... *sigh*...
*The second draft (the first round of revisions) is where my work really begins. This is where I hack at the cliches, the plot holes and, most importantly, fine tune the character's emotional arc.
Before I start on the second draft, I interview ALL the characters, get to know them better, deeper. I get invasive in the extreme. And I don't let them talk me out of it.
I go back to that notebook and do a thorough bio on EVERY character in the book. (which I can also use to make sure my story is consistent in future drafts) I want to know everything that makes them tick...their mommy/daddy-issues, what their childhood was like, do they have nightmares, did they ever wet their bed...everything. Deep stuff. Stuff that pisses them off. Stuff that they often try and lie to me about or at least underplay it. But, this too tells me a lot. Most of this won't make it into the book, but it helps me know how a characters would react in a given situation, what choices they would make. This Deep Bio helps me know why and how they came to be the person I have spent time with, their deep, dirty secrets. (which I may get to exploit later! He he!)
* Regarding names: I find this to be one of the most important components to my character. I cannot write the first word until I know, am sure of, my MCs names. There's a lot at stake with a name. We can tell a lot about a person by their name and any nicknames they go by. I work hard to get names right.
*Just because you now know every detail about a character and her surrounding, doesn't mean you have to bore your reader with every little detail. Less is more. The point of you taking the time to learn every detail about your character is to know their motivations, what makes them tick.
*I love unique (but believable) characters with quirks and depth. These are the characters that I remember for years to come.
(Who doesn't remember the neurotic, guilt-ridden, quirky reluctant hitman, Martin?)
*Flat, cliched characters stop me from reading no matter the promise of a fantastical plot. The hard-boiled, heavy drinking detective? Really? *yawn* The clumsy, shy, smart, high school student? *yawn*
*When writing your character's emotions, make sure you SHOW us, not tell us. As readers, we want to feel them with your characters.
These are some of the ways I work to make my characters believable and memorable. (I didn't get into antagonists, but to be sure, the process is the same)
Want to read everyone else's take on writing Compelling Characters? (YES!) Link here.
What do YOU do to make your characters compelling, believable?
Edited to add: I'm sorry for all the typos! I wrote this post quick and hit 'publish', because I'd forgotten about the 'experiment'/non-blogfest. *blushes* *sigh* *hangs head in shame*
- Lola Sharp
- My name is Lola. (I'm not a showgirl) Yes, L-O-L-A Lola. It's the least of my worries. Let's move on, shall we? This blog is mostly about my misadventures on the journey to publication and beyond. My passion for lush prose, quirky characters, art, music, literature, performing arts and anything creative will be a major theme here. This journey of mine will not always be pretty. Much like rubbernecking a train wreck, I know sometimes you just can't help but look at the carnage that is often my life. So strap on your neck brace, helmet and 5-point harness and come along for the ride! Licentia poetica.
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