Ask any writer why they write, and I'm sure it'll come down to one answer. "Because I can't imagine not writing."
There's something that makes the world settle after a day of commanding my characters. Of course, "commanding" is a rather bold statement. Much of the time, they're surprising me. I'm usually about half a page ahead of my story, and sometimes I feel like I'm half a page behind. But the surprises are such fun. When I wrote Finding Sarah, I had absolutely no clue Randy was an accomplished pianist until more than halfway through the book when he opened a door into a bedroom of his house and there was a piano in it. What a shocker! But when I went back through the book, all the personality traits were there. I had to change only one line to stay in keeping with his new-found talent.
Nothing pleases me more than to find out someone cares about one of my characters. Because for me, if I don't love a character, I can't love the book. I will follow an author to the ends of the earth if I love their characters – and I'll tolerate a lot of things we're taught aren't "good writing" if the characters grab me. Often, I'll write several chapters that lay out the character's personality. These never make it into the book, but I need them, because I need to know what makes the character click.
Click moments are when all of a sudden the story takes off because you know the character. For me, a lot of times it's music. More often lyrics, but sometimes a melody will trigger something. For Finding Sarah, once I knew Sarah's mother had found comfort in Simon and Garfunkel, the line "if you need a friend" from "Bridge Over Troubled Water" became an underlying theme. Sarah wanted to assert her independence, but once she realized needing a friend wasn't admitting weakness, I knew exactly where she was going. For Randy, it was being able to play his grandmother's favorite piece on the piano again.
In What's in a Name?, Blake clicked for me when I heard Dan Fogelberg's "Leader of the Band". The line, "Papa, I don't think I said I love you near enough" sent chills through me as I realized I had to write that character. No, he's not a musician by any means, but that emptiness, which he's unaware of until he meets Kelli, has governed his life.
Starting Over didn't have a musical click moment, but food is something else that shapes characters for me. I have to know if they can cook and what their favorite foods are. For Graham in that book, I didn't know how good a cook he was until he was sitting in his living room and picked up the copy of Gourmet Magazine from his coffee table.
And I absolutely love to throw a couple of characters in a room with a carton of ice cream to see what happens.
Causes Terry Odell Supports
Pro Literacy Worldwide, The Nature Conservancy, The Adult Literacy League, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society