Wednesday, May 25, 2011
How well do you know your characters?
I know very little about my characters before I start writing. Sometimes I’ll start with a vague idea of what they look like, or just a given name, and see where it takes me. Or sometimes I’ll start with a scene and, like a director, zoom in on one particular character and follow him to see where he takes me. Or her. I’m an equal opportunity stalker.
Pantsers like myself rarely know our characters when we get started. It can be very exciting, like sharing a carriage on the Oriental Express with a mysterious stranger who hands you a key in an envelope and says, while looking over his shoulder at the approaching secret police: “You must take this! The life of the dauphin depends on it!” And you know absolutely nothing about this person, except that it’s going to be a hell of a ride to Istanbul.
Unfortunately, sometimes the person you hope is your ticket to mystery and intrigue turns out to be Roger, who works in Accounts Payable of a multinational plastics-manufacturing company specialising in making castors for office chairs. And you really wish you’d picked another seat before the journey got underway.
So, for the plotters out there, how much do you know about your characters before you begin writing their stories? Do you wait for them to reveal their secrets as you journey together? Or do you know enough details about them to set them up a fake profile on an internet dating site?*
Let’s test that theory.
What is your main character’s star sign?
What is their favourite colour?
What is their favourite song?
What is their guilty pleasure?
How much money do they have in their bank account?
What is their favourite book or movie?
So, can you answer any of those questions about your main character? I can’t, because they haven’t told me yet. And also, I can’t get Roger to shut up about the difference between polyurethanes and halogenated plastics for long enough to ask him.
* This may be fraudulent. But also fun.