Greetings, and happy mid-April! Now that spring has officially sprung, the work around here is beginning to burgeon as rapidly as the daffodils! Clean-up and preparations for planting are in the works and quickly approaching, and in the midst of all this we’re helping to plan a wedding ─ all on top of working on two books at the same time.
Lost your breath yet? Some days! It’s all coming along swimmingly, though. Volume 7, the FINAL volume in this saga, is making progress. I’ve finished the drafts and pre-printing edits and am ready to print out the manuscript. With only a little over two months left, I’m praying we can get everything sorted out in time (!). I will have more information, such as the cover and synopsis and all that exciting stuff, for you soon, so be looking forward to that ─ I certainly am. I’m really happy about the cover and can’t wait to show you . . .
Anywho, today I’m going to talk about characters once more (because they are such an intrinsic part of any story, they warrant a lot of care and consideration. Parents brag about their children, authors yammer about their characters). The topic/ tip I have for this post is: when developing characters, work with them. Familiarize yourself with them. This is something I’ve learned over the past (what, is it five years already? Wow), and while it may be common knowledge in the writing community, I’ve discovered that I learn quite a few things the Hard Way.
I think the way you’re supposed to go about writing a story is to scheme your plot and develop your characters before you really get into the nitty-gritty of punching words onto the page. Did I? Pft! No. When I began this project o, so many years ago I did very little in the way of character development and just skipped ahead. I didn’t do character profiles, getting any sort of idea who these people were, and I didn’t know much about them.
However, as is per usual, the more time you spend with a person, the more you’ll get to know them. They open up to you and you notice things about them as they interact with their environment, the people around them, and their circumstances. This is how I learned who my characters were, and only after a couple of years did I get into the whole ‘character profile’ thing. I’d never looked into character outlines until a couple years ago, and there are as many different formats as there are people who use them, ranging from basic information (name, gender, eye color, hair color, etc.) to far more in depth details (phobias, neurosis, favorite book/song, and the like). The outline is basically just a list of questions to answer about your character to help flesh them out.
The chart that I currently use is pretty extensive, ranging from physical appearance, mentality, education, relationships, thought processes, habits, quirks ─ all sorts of things ─ and in truth I don’t always go into those details (right or left brained? Beats the bananas out of me), but I did like a few of the more thought-provoking questions that have pushed me to really consider certain aspects of these people that I never thought about before. They also give me an opportunity to answer the ‘why’ questions that are hidden underneath, and that wee three letter word is the meat and bone of everything. Yes, they may wear that, like this, hate that, but those are surface details. It’s they why they wear that, like this, hate that, no matter how trivial it may seem, that turns a caricature into a person.
But you won’t find much of any of this out until you work with them. That, at least, is how it worked for me. I learned about them as they traveled and fought and survived, as they thought at night when they couldn’t sleep, or were forced to make snappish decisions, or how they occupied themselves when they were bored. Pushed into corners, stranded all by themselves, crowded by other people or burdened by their expectations ─ each and every experience brings out the truth of a person, things that can’t come honestly while just trying to answer a question.
And here’s another thing (and it’s kind of a confession, too, I suppose). When I first began, I had characters that were simply there for a headcount (horrible, right?). They were kind of like NPCs (non-playable characters, in video game lingo), just there for the sake of it, but as we went on this journey they up and decided to prove to me that they were real people, too, with histories, hopes, fears, and purpose that helped drive the story. (Thock, Fwip, Bill, and Kai’Tor were all originally 2-dimentional characters at the start, can you see how they didn’t like that? Yeah. Bill and Kai’Tor were supposed to be dropped off at Udalak and never heard from again, and we all know how that worked out!)
So, through all this garble, I suppose what I’m trying to say is this: developing your characters beforehand may be a good starting point, but to learn who they really are and how they tick, you’ve got to work with them. Little by little they’ll turn into real people and not just ‘the hero’, the ‘sidekick’, the ‘villain’, and the ‘fillers’. They’ll become real to you, and therefore they’ll become real for your readers. So don’t be afraid to start writing even if you don’t know your cast all that well, you’ll get better acquainted as you go, and by the end they’ll seem like old friends.
Don’t forget, there’a giveaway running on Goodreads for the 4th volume in TJT, The Memory Quest – the volume where the truth about the king and current events is revealed, to much horror and dismay. All villains begin somewhere, and sometimes they weren’t always villainous . . .