Welcome back to WIP (Work in Progress) Wednesday! On Wednesdays I try to post something about what I’m writing, or a share a piece of work with everyone. I’m working on having something to share, but currently dividing my time between:
- A short story, one to three chapters that is a followup to a previous story
- A serialized,on going story
- An in-progress novel
I pretty much just flit from one to the other; as soon as I get bored with the progress of one, I switch to something else. When an idea comes to me for something, I go to it and pound it out until I am sick of looking at it. And on and on until I finish something.
So, last night in The Writer Diaries weekly Tuesday night chat, we talked Characters. Character development, how you make sure your characters are deep, three dimensional, well rounded. Also, how do you keep your characters from repeating personality traits, quirks, fears from story to story?
Characters. Wrote a song about ’em. Like to hear it? Here it go:
I didn’t really write a song. However, I do have a bit of a process. Over the years I have developed from a ‘let’s just see if I can do this, total pantser’ writer to a ‘sort of plotter, let’s get some details to start with’ kind of writer. Roni Loren calls this a Plotster – a pantser/ plotter hybrid. I like to hammer out a couple of details about my characters, and I first start by asking myself
- Who are these people?
- And why does anyone care?
If I can’t answer those questions, I’m not ready to write. And I don’t start writing until I’m ready.
One of the most fun parts of writing, at least for me, is the part where I get to make up stuff about people’s lives. I pick a name (or a name comes to me, like Phoenix in Nowhere Man), then start filling out important details. Where does this person live? What’s their occupation? How old are they? and what’s their DEAL? You know.. what makes them tick? What’s the STORY? I surprise my friends by admitting I get a lot of details from real life. A photo, an overheard conversation, a situation that needs a drop of drama.
As I mentioned previously, my writing method has changed to where I have a bit of a process. This has changed over time, most recently when I picked up on this great post from Author Roni Loren, who talks about HER writing process. I take different people’s routine and do what we call here at my day job a ‘MASH-UP’. I take some from here and some from there, toss it all in a blender and go with what comes out. I refer to this post a lot as I tweak my own process, asking myself the important questions, nixing the ones that I just can’t answer or don’t apply. There are all sorts of character questionnaires on the internet as well as a wide variety of craft books to flip through to help you muddle through this part of writing.
Once I have my bare bones details down, I’m ready to begin writing.
One of the things we discussed last night was characteristics and traits that we see over and over again in pubbed books as well as our own stories. One of the best benefits of doing a little prestory planning is that it ensures that your new characters don’t look/sound/feel like your old characters. It’s not the same voice in a different body. They don’t have the same fears or mannerisms or sayings. I truly dislike reading a lot of stories where the characters are a carbon copy– no different than anyone I have seen a hundred times before. For example, the Fifty Shades knockoffs are just infuriating. Authors create characters that come from the mind and the heart. Carbon copies of that character are just that, flat and one-dimensional and often obviously flawed.
In one of the genres in which I write, this is a serious danger. I write a lot of fanfiction for fun and practice. This means that the ‘world’ and usually the main character (s) are pretty much static. Even if it’s Alternate Universe (where you change the setting, the background), the character TRAITS remain so that they’re recognizable as that person. The only reason anyone would read a [insert fandom] story is because they care about that particular character. If people ONLY care about Harry Potter, they aren’t too concerned about a Hermoine story. And when they read your story, they want to recognize Harry Potter, even if you’ve turned him into a a serial killer. The other issue is your female lead. There is a term called Mary Sue, defined as the author basically writing themselves into a story, or making the female lead a very idealized, perfect character. No one wants to read that but the person who wrote it.
Times, they are a-changin’
Of course, details change. Things like time lapses and ages really bug the heck out of me so I try to make sure they make sense. One of the issues I’m working on with the novel is the passage of time between a pivotal moment and current events. They are linked and the length of time passed is very important, so I’m working on counting back and making sure it makes sense in every chapter.
I also might change things like names, home towns, occupations, character traits. These things are all fluid, in my opinion, until the book hits the final draft. By then, your details should be solid and you should know your characters like you know your best friend. My Critique Partner/Beta and I OFTEN discuss characters like they’re real people. They have to seem that way in my mind, otherwise they’re not as real on the page.
What is YOUR writing process? What’s a technique or routine that works for you? Share in the comments below!