Monday, September 8, 2014

Chatty Characters
During the semester, writing time is hard to come by. And so when the words miraculously flow at those times squeezed in between the moments of life, I'm especially grateful.

Saturday evening was one of those times. It had been a busy week and I'd been away from my work-in-progress for most of it.

And then before I knew it, one of my characters was making a purchase (not the one I told him to make, by the way) and in doing so, he revealed something about himself not just to another character, but to me as well. I hadn't known this little tidbit about him was true, but as soon as it came out, I knew it was absolutely accurate.

Do I sound a little crazy? I accept that the answer to that question is, at the very least, a discreet nod, particularly from readers who think writers have it all figured out and my writing colleagues who carefully plot their books before they face the cursor that flashes on the blank computer screen below the words, "CHAPTER 1."

But I know my fellow pantsers (those of us who write with minimal planning -- "by the seat of our pants," as it were) understand. They know that discoveries like these are part of the fun of being a pantser.

The funny thing is, the aspect of my novels I plot the most is my characters. Before I write a word, I create character sketches for all of my main characters, along with at least a little information about those who will cross their paths more than once -- family members, best friends, school acquaintances. And yet, my characters never fail to surprise me. Ironically, the more I know about them, the more likely they are to tell me their secrets.

Come to think of it, maybe that's not so ironic. The more deeply a writer knows her characters, the more likely she is to uncover their secrets -- the thoughts, feelings and bits of history that aren't revealed right off the bat. The things that influence who they are, how they act and what they do.

And, after all, isn't that true of real flesh-and-blood people? And isn't that why we root for characters who reveal little bits of themselves on the page?

Years ago, when I read Stephen King's On Writing,  I embraced my pantser habits for the first time. Then today, as I was looking for some visuals to jazz up this post, I found the little gem at the bottom of this post.

Although I no longer consider myself somehow deficient as a writer because I don't plot everything out ahead of time, and I revel in pantser-itis benefits like surprising character traits, I do have one wish.

I wish my characters would be more forthcoming more often. But I guess I can't have everything.

No comments:

Post a Comment