Writing: Thoughts on Characters

WordsMarch Madness served two purposes this year: it got me to finalize an outline, and it jumpstarted my next writing project. I maintained a pace of around 3,000 words per day for the challenge, though I don’t expect to keep to that amount. A couple of times I had to write until 3am, which I don’t recommend if you have to be up in the morning, but the story is going quite well. Thanks to the challenge and the two days surrounding it, I have now exceeded 20,000 words on the new novel, though seeing as it’s April Fool’s Day, perhaps I should say I have ten times that.

For those not all tied up in word count, that’s just under a fourth of the way through the first draft.

I’m calling it alternately Aubrey’s Story and A Little Country (for the country song A Little Bit Country), but I expect the title may change a couple of times before I settle on the final one. In contrast, the characters are very much settled in and determined to be exactly who they want to be though that’s not always to their benefit.

I write stories for characters. Whether those characters are dark elves, out in space, or prancing across a ballroom, each has a firm nature that crystalizes early in the process. From then on, it becomes a matter of refining the character rather than concocting it.

I have edited stories to change the nature of a character before, more often with minor characters than major, and this is one of the hardest editing efforts I’ve faced. Fixing timeline, plot, or continuity issues is much easier than reworking how a person behaves every time they hit the screen.

So what do I mean by their nature? It’s as simple as any vocal ticks, their appearance, and the station they hold, and as complicated as their every thought, what they will do in any given situation, and whether they’ll change easily or fighting the whole way when faced with a flaw in their own person.

I am an instinctive writer. I don’t craft character profiles, charts, interviews and the like ahead of time. I do have them, but that’s because I jot down notes whenever something is revealed so if I need to go back and reference it, I can. These characters come to life as I write. They have full histories not because I planned them out, but because they’re people and people come from somewhere. They don’t always tell me what those histories are, though the relevant parts tend to become apparent, but I can sense the weight of their existence and feel how it influences who and what they are at the time of the story. I’m having a bit of fun with that in this novel because I’m seeding one sequel semi-deliberately because I realized its presence when writing my initial synopsis, and I’ve discovered another along the way as hints of what happened to one of Barbara’s cousins intrigued me into peering closer at her past.

This is part of why I fall in love with my characters and, I hope, why my readers find them so compelling. I know it’s the source of the requests/comments that whatever piece could be part of a greater whole. I’ll never write the full life history of every character. There isn’t enough time in my lifespan or ten times that many years. But you’ll never know when I’ll choose a minor character in one book to star in a prequel, sequel, or related novel. Every character is the star of their own story. It’s choosing the point in their story that makes for an interesting read that is the hard part.

As an example, the novel I’m writing now is the story of a minor, but critical, character in Beneath the Mask. I was stunned to discover how little stage-time Aubrey had in Jasper and Daphne’s story, and yet he inspired at least one reader to ask for his tale. Luckily, Aubrey is the obliging sort.

A Little Country is inspired by one simple character trait: Aubrey has a firm belief in a perfect match. The only trouble is he has no idea how to go about finding her. Here’s a glimpse of Aubrey from Beneath the Mask as he expounds on this very element:

“Just think,” Jasper added, laughter gleaming in his eyes, “You’re next for the marriage bed. I’m sure your mum could happily find some chit to slip between your sheets.”Choking on his stout, Aubrey glared at Jasper. “I’ll do the choosing,” he finally gasped out. “I’m not leaving my future to chance as you seem willing to do.”Jasper took a long draw of his beer then wiped the foam from his upper lip. “At least you have a year or two before your mission is proved foolhardy. I tell you, there are no women among that gaggle of girls. Enjoy what time you have of freedom.”

Jasper was proved wrong, though his mother — and fate — did the choosing. Now it’s up to Barbara to make her case to Aubrey, though I promise you it won’t be that simple as Barbara has a bit of a temper, and Aubrey isn’t always wise.

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