where the writers are
Develop those Characters

Don't forget the summer sale at Smashwords. What's in a Name? is 25% off, but only until the end of July.

In my blog hopping the other day, I came across two posts talking about developing characters. One used worksheets and questionnaires, and suggested spending a LOT of time getting to know characters before putting words on the page, including suggestions to spend ten minutes writing and reflecting on the character. This, while it might work for some, is a total turnoff to me. If I'm going to write for ten minutes, I want to be working on the WIP.

The other said you could do that, but it wouldn't create the depth of character you'd achieve by looking at how your characters behaved, and that you have to write beyond the character notes. If I may quote their guest blogger, Harry Bingham:

First of all, character emerges from every tiny detail. Those little snippets of dialogue. The humour. Weird little choices of vocabulary. You can’t get those things from writing character notes, you just get to them by writing the character. Letting yourself sink into the moment.  

Are either of these the right approach? Of course not. It's no different from any other helpful writing tips. Each author will find what works. And even for the same author, what works for one book might not work for another.

I have finally returned to my current WIP, now that the copy edits are all turned in. (And no, I haven't heard from either editor yet). I created my main characters with broad brushstrokes, and fill in the details as I go. I don't need to know that the favorite expression of my heroine is Sheesh until I actually write it and it works. I didn't know she'd been engaged until I needed more conflict for her when she meets the hero. I didn't know her parents had expected her to follow in their footsteps until I needed a stronger reason for her to be struggling to open her own bakery in a new community. I tend to 'find' these traits as I ask myself "WHY" during the writing process.

I've also (at last) got that dead body. I didn't even know which character was going to end up on the bakery floor, or exactly how he or she would die when I started writing. But once I picked my cause of death, I needed more history on the character. How did I do this? The same way my cops are doing it. I have them in the room, with their white board, making notes and asking questions. And as they ask and answer, I write.

For example, the victim died of a drug overdose. Once I establish that, then I can decide whether she was a drug user, either recreational or perhaps taking prescriptions for some ailment. If that's the case, then I'll figure out what the ailment was, but I didn't need to know that from the beginning. As it turns out, she regarded her body as a temple. (Seemed to be more of a mystery that way). And with that piece of information, I could mention that she took pride in using only organic ingredients in her shop.

If I were a plotter, perhaps I'd have known all this before I started. But to me, knowing too much means forcing clues rather than layering them in more subtly. And I'd have missed all the fun of looking at the story and deciding which of the characters I'd introduced was going to have to die.