Monday, March 26, 2012

Know thy characters

So I just finished the novel I've been cowriting with Caleb Warnock. He invited me on board his project for two reasons.
One: He's insanely busy being a bestselling author an all.
Two: He was having major trouble with his main character- a female.

As I delved into the meat of his manuscript, the problem became clear. He didn't know his main character. The voices of every other POV character and side character rang true. But for some reason, Hallie's voice was stilted and awkward. I believe my exact words were that she sounded like an 80 year old tea maven. So my job was to rewrite her point of view so she could be heard.

It took some work, but I did it by following one of my ten writing commandments: Know thy character.

It's the same process I use in any story I write. Before I go spinning yarns into chapters, I sit down and have a chat with each character. Even though the little details will likely never make it into the book, I want to know this character's whole life story. I want to know their first memory. If clowns scare them. If they have any odd or quirky habits. Who beat them up in high school. Or maybe they were the one doing the bullying.

This serves a two-fold purpose. Characters are memorable when they are interesting and have depth and feelings. And secondly, if I know my character, it is easier to correctly portray their thoughts and reactions. The rest of the story often writes itself because I can see what they will do, just like a movie in my head.  

So now that I am done with Hallie's story, I am off to start a new one. My new main character is Bertha Jenkins. She's adopted, sat on a bully in third grade, her house has a roof the dips down in the middle, and she may or may not have gotten married on elephant-back in India. (she's still working out the legalities) She enjoys religion hopping and is currently working her way through Taoism.

I'm sure there's more, and Bertha will have to tell me all about it.


  1. I want to know more about Bertha, too. Good job.

  2. Thanks Renae. I'll keep everyone posted on what she's up to. :)