Recently I’ve been focusing a lot on developing characters for a new story-and yes, I said NEW story. As in not the unfinished one I’ve been working on for the last few years…as in the voices in my head that have been nagging me to tell this other(totally unrelated) story,won. They won, I lost. Well, technically I guess I won and I lost. Internal battles are like that.
I’ve noticed that there are usually two main types of writers: the ones who think of characters and develop the plot around them, and the ones who think of plots/storylines and plug the characters into those. I’ve realized that I tend to be more like the latter. I have pages and pages of scribbled story ideas that come to me at random times (like I mentioned in an earlier post), and I might have general character ideas to go along with the story, but I usually only flesh those out as I’m outlining the plot.
I tend to start by visualizing what each character looks like, and try to find a photo of someone who resembles them as reference. I’m definitely visually oriented, which is why I normally see stories play out in my mind like movies. Also, considering my profession involves meeting new people and hearing their various backgrounds everyday, one would assume that creating characters would come easy to me. One would be wrong. I think that fact actually works against me, because I tend to be so detail and back story focused I get stuck. Just another example of how over-thinking can be a writers curse, I suppose.
There seems to be a recurring question that comes up among writers about what the “right” amount of back story for a character is. Too much backstory can work against you by drowning your story in unnecessary information. Too little backstory can leave readers confused and/or not invested in the character. Admittedly, I don’t know the widely accepted “correct” answer to that one yet. What I do know, is that if I feel like knowing a certain part of a characters personality is important to the story or would improve the story were it included, then I’m putting it in. I of course could be very wrong about it…but then again, that’s what editors are for, no?
This new work in progress I have is one that is very near and dear to my heart. It’s an idea I’ve had for quite some time,but I kept putting on the back burner because it seemed too heavy and I was afraid I wouldn’t do it justice. Well, those voices I mentioned earlier just increasingly bugged me to the point where I felt like I had no choice but to at least attempt to flesh it all out. I’ve decided to use some of the characters as an homage of sorts to some of the ‘real’ people that were involved in what the story is about. I’m also nervous about that aspect, since although i’m not using any real names, it means a lot that the key pieces of their personalities are depicted authentically. You know, no pressure, just trying to honor people’s memories.
I once saw a few signs that I just loved because they ring so true. One said: “Careful or you’ll end up in my novel.” The other said: “If a writer falls in love with you, you can never die.” Everyone we’ve come across that has been any part of our lives, any place we’ve been, any experience we’ve had…although some of the memories fade, they all leave a little bit of themselves embedded within us. Sometimes that little bit left behind is a gift; something that awakened a new part of you, or a wonderful memory that you’ll keep forever. Sometimes what’s left behind is a deep seeded fear of commitment and a nervous tic.
When it comes to being a writer and creating characters, you have to use all of it. Just like heroes and heroines, villains too originate in the mind of the writer who created them, and they all are born from something. For instance, the motivation for Lord Voldemort? J.K. Rowling’s first ex-husband, Morty. Ok that’s a lie, I made that up. But if you know a writer, don’t be an ass hole. Because in a world of circuses-real or imagined- sometimes you’re the ringmaster, and sometimes you’re the monkey.