Friday, October 12, 2012

Really Knowing Your Characters

By Maggie
One of my nieces is getting married in Maryland this weekend . I’m very excited to be here with many of my East coast family, including my sisters. It isn’t often that all six of us sisters are in the same place for a joyous occasion. With all us in our 50’s and 60’s now, you could say my sisters and I are one interesting bunch of bananas. I could write a novel about each one of us or all of us. For a while I had it in my mind to write a book titled “The Daughters of Helen.” Each of us would tell our story. Maybe I’ll do that one day. Thinking about this makes me realize how easy our characters would be to ‘flesh out,’ as they say. I know us all that well: the good and bad, the flawed and perfect, the hopes and fears, the mistakes and the triumphs. To have believable and authentic characters in our writing, we need to do the same thing: know them that well.

My writing style tends to be of the ‘jump in and write’ variety with not a lot of prep work beforehand. I  get know my characters as I write their story. As fun as this may be, maybe what I need to do is sit down and take the time to get to know my people inside and out, the protagonist at the very least.

This is probably not a trip that will have a lot of down time, but I am looking at two 3-4 hour flights here. So, here’s my plan: I’ll write down everything I know about my protagonist so far, three chapters into my novel.  While I’m doing this, I’ll really, really think about her. What does she want? How did she get where she is right now? Where is she flawed or perfect, good or bad? How has she triumphed or failed? I need to know all of it to make her real on the page and make readers care.

How do you fiction writers get to know your characters?


Jerry Eckert said...

I lived with mine, or at least the folks that my characters are modeled after, off and on for 15 years while working in South Africa. They were my friends, my antagonists, the people I read about in the papers while living in Cape Town. Now I have to change the names to protect the guilty.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Hi Maggie -- I like to write from multiple points of view, so I try to "become" that character when I'm writing his or her scenes. It was especially fun when writing the bad guys in my last manuscript. I think I have an inner thug trying to get out. :D

Dean K Miller said...

Mine slowly open up as I ask a few questions. Then I put them in places to see how they react. Sometimes they choose to turn left instead of I watch and learn. It's their pretend life, I let them live it...

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