Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Getting To Know My Characters: It's Making All The Difference, Part Two

Write what you know. How many times we, as writers, have heard this maxim?

And yet, in our impatience to get our story down, we so often forget to do just that.

Now writing what you know doesn't mean limiting your prose to memoirs and personal experiences. But it does mean gaining an understanding of the subject you're attempting to convey.

The prequel of the BryonySeries, Before the Blood, is an experiement in writing for me, a series of unfinished novels that propel the story forward. I began outling the Before the Blood in 2011 and began writing it in earnest in 2014. Three novels are completed, two remain. The last is the longest.

Along the way, I've encountered dry spells and tackled them in different ways: finding a song that represented the mood of a particular scene; chapter; or character; writing randomly and following the trail; taking a walk and envisioning the action; finding photos online that look like my characters or scenes.

Then I hit Henry's Story and hit a wall, very puzzling. In Bryony, Henry, after Melissa, was the easiest character to write and, so, I wrote most of his scenes first. Since then, I've looked forward to depicting Henry once again.

So why is he remaining in the shadows?

The first chapter in Henry's section was easy to write. Well, okay, most of it was previously written. Chapter One was strenuous, and Chapter Two is eluding me altogether, despite the outline.

Finally two weekends ago, as I was out walking the track in the dark with my headphones, searching for a melody that would unblock the muse, I realized I was trying to write what I did not know. The other characters were like stand-up paper dolls in my mind, artfully arranged, but without depth and personality.

Who were these other people?

I wasn't quite sure.

So I began asking them questions, minute details that may or may not ever be used in the story. This goes beyond basic traits like hair color and hobbies. The questions read more like this:

• What makes your character laugh out loud?

• Your character is doing intense spring cleaning. What is easy for her to throw out? What is difficult for her to part with? Why?

• What does your character regard as the lowest depth of misery?

• If your character could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

• If your character were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?

• Who are your character’s friends and family? Who does she surround herself with? Who are the people your character is closest to? Who does he wish he were closest to?

• What is one strong memory that has stuck with your character from childhood? Why is it so powerful and lasting?

• Where does your character go when he’s angry?

I have a list of approximately thirty questions for each character. Like a time-elapsed video, they are plumping out and taking form. As they begin to move and breathe, so does the chapter.

Yes, this is time-consuming. But the result will be natural, layered, and rich.

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