Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Finding Characters...

Hey everybody!  Sorry for the long absence. The semester is coming to an end, which means tons of grading. I am!

At any rate, I want to resume my periodic efforts to document my progress on my latest manuscript.

Last time we left off (all those weeks ago), I talked about having to find the right combination of characters and situation before beginning a manuscript.

To me, characters (not plot) make the story. A book needs realistic characters who strike a chord with the reader. But the characters also have to have something to do.  A story with the most brilliant, the most vivid characters won't sell if nothing happens.  You need both.

So over the past couple of months, I've been tinkering with a few characters who have crossed my mind. I've also been trying to place them in situations that will have numerous opportunities to create emotion--not just conflict as most of the writing books discuss, but also laughter and love and longing and fear.  I think it was Sol Stein who said, "the job of the writer is to inflict emotion."  I think that's true--especially the inflict part.  But we can talk about that some other time.

Conflict is essential, of course. You can't have a good story where there's no conflict. But I don't think you can have a good story without a few laughs, wistful sighs and painful winces as well. Imagine watching a horror film where the characters on the screen are constantly running for their lives.  That's fine for the first few minutes, but you also need the quieter moments to heighten the tension.  Every story is a love story, comedy, and thriller. You can't just have one emotion.  That'd be like a painting with only one color.

So how do I go about finding my characters and situation? 

This is what I do (and I'd love to hear how other writers accomplish the task) ... I daydream.  Seriously! It seems I spend most of my life daydreaming about one thing or another, especially while I'm on the stairmaster or exercise bike.  I close my eyes and just ... think.  And things come to me.

For instance, a couple months ago, I was at the gym, thinking about Abby (one of my favorite characters in Betrayal in the Highlands and the soon-to-be-released Blood in Snow).  I was picturing her sitting around a table, talking to a group of her friends. 

I wondered who her friends would be. What would they be like?  What would they do with their free time? What arguments would they have?  And so forth.

I pictured Abby with a half dozen people and soon three became clearer than the rest--Hadley, Ida, and Natalie.  Hadley is always gossiping about everybody's business and easily excited. Ida is more reserved and shy, but dearly wants to be noticed ... or at least seen.  Natalie ... well, I think I'm falling for her. 

Nat comes off as a bit of a bitch. She doesn't mean to.  It's just that she has a lot going on and has difficulty dealing with the social niceties and small talk required in most situations. She knows what she wants, and can't understand why she can't just try to get it. Why all the rituals? Why all the wasted time? Why is saying exactly what you think wrong?

So, I think I've found a lead character. She's strong enough to take some punishment, but also stubborn enough to dish it out.  In other words, she has a range to her--far more than Hadley and Ida who still seem cliche and one-dimensional to me.

What about the situation?  How do I come up with that?

Well, much of the same way.  You see, I've been walking a good deal with Natalie in my mind--talking with her, learning what sets her off, figuring out what she wants from life. I don't have any clear idea yet, but it seems her worst fear is losing her independence.  So that'll have to be part of the situation.  But what can she gain?  Hmmm. 

Again, I'm still tinkering with the story, but it's slowly evolving in my mind.  Hopefully she'll come up with a story worth writing (and reading).

That's it for now.  Please remember that my third book in the Riddle in Stone series (Blood in Snow) should be out in July; however, I have yet to see a cover or anything.  When I do, I'll pass it along for your feedback. 

Thanks for the support you all have been giving me.  I couldn't do any of this without you.  Thanks!