“It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.”
― William Faulkner
In my humble opinion, this is a great quote, and it describes how I go about writing a story. For me, it begins, ends, and is 99% about, the characters. I couldn’t write a story without my imaginary peeps first coming on board.
From the time I was a young girl, probably 6 or 7 years old, I LOVED people watching and listening. Whenever I went somewhere, be it the grocery store, a movie theater, a department store, or even just to the park or library, I was fascinated with watching people interact with one another, and individually.
I’m still that way. Some would call it nosey. I call it being in love with human beings and wanting to know all about them. Everything.
Ok, so maybe that is a little nosey.
Anyway. I remember being 10 and being in the bank, on line with my grandmother, waiting for our turn at the teller’s window. There was an elderly lady behind us who had what must have been a companion with her. The older woman was very mean spirited and sharp tongued, continually complaining to the companion about things she’d done wrong that morning from how poorly she’d cooked the old lady’s breakfast, to the way her clothes felt as if they hadn’t been put in fabric softener when washed. To hear the old bat tell it, the collective problems of the world rested on this young woman’s shoulders and had been caused by her. Even back then I was a champion of mistreated people and I longed to turn around and say something nasty to the old woman, but I knew if I did my grandmother would slap me upside my head faster than a hummingbird’s wings flapping, so I kept my comments to myself. Instead, I turned around and looked at the person being verbally smashed. She was pretty, quiet, and had the most amazing closed mouth smile I had ever seen. I remember thinking she looked like the Virgin Mary – serene and tranquil.
Now, a 150 years later ( kidding. Close, but kidding) my writer’s brain has tried to imagine just what that lovely lady could have been thinking to block all the vituperative comments being hurled at her. Maybe the old lady was going to leave her a gazillion dollars in her will and she was thinking of the day she’d get to spend it; maybe she was envisioning the next time she would see her secret lover who was waiting for her to get off work and come to him. I tend to think she was conjuring ways to shut the mean old lady’s mouth. Permanently. Whatever it was, her face and the situation has been stuck in my memory bank for all these years and I know one day I will base a character on her.
Since I write romance novels primarily now, I know how my stories will end and what the plot will be. The characters are the impetus for me, the parts of the story I must find and learn about. I’ve been to conferences where I’ve been instructed to write complete and detailed character profiles before I ever type a word on the page. Other courses have suggested that I conduct character interviews with my potential peeps to find out what makes them tick and why they would be good candidates for my story. One multi-published author at a recent conference stated emphatically that you shouldn’t even name your characters until you have written at least 100 pages in your novel. Just refer to them along the way as hero, heroine, sidekick, villain etc. Ok, I think it’s safe to say I am not going to be doing that one. It’s just too out there for me to even consider. Sorry, multi-published author. And you know who you are.
For me, it’s pretty simple. I come up with the names of my hero and heroine first. Once I have the names I troll Google images and find people that look like the names I’ve come up with. For instance, I wrote a story about a guy with jet black hair and blue eyes. I found an old picture of Christopher Reeve ( Superman) and bingo – he was the archetype for my hero. All my descriptions of the hero were then based on Super– I mean, Christopher Reeve. After I know their names and what they look like, I figure out the conflict between the two of them. Once that’s done, I roughly plot out the story, scene by scene. This plot isn’t written in stone and I do modify it along the way if I think something better will work. But my goal is to move those two characters around as much as possible into each other’s way until they realize they love one another.
Then I type THE END.
Okay, so it’s really not that simple. But it is safe to say that the last 15 novels I’ve written were all character driven. I love these people. I sweat for them. I want them to wind up together for eternity, happy and secure in life and love. Since I’m so invested in them, it stands to reason that they – the characters – are what motivates me to tell their stories.
They drive me to write. Plan and simple.