Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Character Study

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When I set out to write a novel, the first thing I do is create my characters. Protagonists and those who interact with them regularly get serious treatment. Before I write a single word, or even let my imagination move beyond the inciting event or main idea of the story, I create a character profile. I know more about my character than will ever make it onto the page, but, for me, this is a necessary step in knowing how she (or he) will act once she (or he) enters the story.

Take Jim, for example. Angel's husband, Charli's father, Marita's nemesis. Readers of Casting the First Stone and Chasing a Second Chance have been quick to point out how little they like him. That's okay. I don't like him either.

The question is, do his actions make sense? Spend a little time with his mother, Carmella, and I suspect they might. Think about the expectations placed on him, how he got to where he is, what mistakes he's made and what his regrets might be. While the reader shouldn't have to think too deeply about these things, the author should know how those things impact his day-to-day, page-to-page behavior and should write him to be true to those things.

Secondary characters get less attention, and those who appear briefly get even less. While I often develop a little background for these characters (parents, best friends, other regulars), I typically know just enough to populate scenes with them. What I know most about them is how they fit in with my main cast of characters -- how they blend or work as foils.

Then, there are those who pop up, only to disappear within a chapter or two. They get a name, perhaps a job or another distinguishing role, and that's about it. These are the siblings, classmates, and rejected love interests.

Recently, I was thinking about one of those rejected love interests, Gregory Daniels. Originally, he was going to be a more significant love interest, then he had to go and be "beige" on his (offscreen) date with Marita. His fault, not mine. We know that he's an attorney, he's smart (he graduated from Harvard Law School) and he is, in typical walk-on fashion, able to be summed up in a label (metrosexual) that brings an immediate picture to mind. Never mind whether or not it's accurate; he'll be gone in a few pages.

Thinking about Gregory led me to another idea: character interviews -- something along the lines of the "Five Questions from the Porch Swing" feature I did with authors earlier this year. Starting next week, I'll be interviewing my characters here, asking each of them the same few questions, with one final question that's character-specific. Although I have ideas, I haven't finalized my questions yet, so I'm open to suggestions.

So, I'll ask you. What do you want to know? And, whom should I interview first?*

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*The only caveat is that we have to stick to my characters.
I can't claim to know why another author's characters would behave as they do.

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