Some of you may have noticed that I didn’t post last week. It was a tough week. I spent most of it sleepless, working third shift, sitting by Mom’s hospital bedside (again sleepless) and crying my eyeballs out – for two very different reasons. Mom’s is fine, BTW. We finally discovered yesterday that it was skeletal, not heart. Her chiropractor fixed her. Sigh… The crying part was because my beloved dog Delta died. We’d had her (and she’d had our hearts) for nearly 15 years. The following portion of this post notwithstanding, Delta had been a big part of my (Gwen Hunter’s) writing for her whole life. She was Big Dog in the Rhea Lynch novels and is Butchie in Rapid Descent coming in 09. So…on to my topic and you’ll see how the subject of Delta blends in to what I wanted to talk about today.
Fans often ask, how much are your characters like you? The answer, except for animals, always being … um … not so much. For me, the best part of writing is discovering who the characters are, what the plot and conflict reveal about the main character, how said character acts when the conflict spirals down and things get dangerous and dirty. I can plan the plot line out pretty well in advance, especially when writing mystery (as Gwen Hunter), but the characters are always a mystery when I first start writing, even to me.
I have author friends who work out everything about a character, create whole entire histories and backstories about them, and know everything, sometimes even a family line back numerous generations (I think David fits into this category). One mystery writer friend, Tamar Myers, even draws pictures of her characters and keeps the notebook open when writing. When I first sit down to write, I know very little beyond what I need to actually *start* the book.
When I first came up with Thorn St. Claire, I knew physical descriptions because she is a sword fighter and her small stature correlates into the type of weapons she uses. A long-bladed knife in the hands of her fighting mentor becomes a short-sword for Thorn. So, I knew height, weight (sorta), hair color, skin color both as a mage and when glamoured to look human, musculature, speed, and stamina. Eye color was unimportant. I knew she was an orphan, but not how her parents died. I knew she was a stone mage in hiding, and why she was in hiding, and what would happen to her if she was discovered (nothing good). After that, well, nothing much mattered. Her personality was a total unknown.
Age was important – only because I needed her to have been in hiding a certain number of years but have been with others of her kind long enough to get a tiny bit of magical training. Education in the human school system was unimportant. Her foster parents were unimportant. A lot of this extra stuff was revealed to me as BloodRing, the first book in the Rogue Mage series, was written, but starting out, was unknown. I wanted the character to tell me about herself. I wanted to get to know her, just like the reader would, at the same time and speed as the reader did. I wanted her faults to be things she kept hidden, like most of us keep them under wraps, often from ourselves. I wanted her strengths to be the little things, like, the fact that she made friends of the life-long variety and was loyal, to be fairly obvious. But I wanted the bigger strengths to be revealed as the story unfolded. The same way I’d get to know a new friend. And I wanted Thorn to never have pets. Why? Because all my characters have animals in their lives and I wanted Thorn to have none. In fact, none of my fantasy characters (so far) have pets or animals. All of my mystery characters do.
For me, character development (or character revelation) is the most personal part of the creative process. Are they like me? Not so much. Like someone I know? Not so much either. In fact, I have based a character on a person exactly twice, both times in the next Gwen Hunter book, Rapid Descent, to be released in February 09. Jedi Mike Kren, the Old Man of the River, is based on Jedi Mike Kolenburger, a river rafting guide. Elton, a paddler and the head of the rescue team, and parts of the hero, Orson Lennox, are based on David Crawford, owner of Rapid Expeditions on the Pigeon River. Why? Because both men are bigger than life. The characters just glommed onto them, and became more and more like them, especially Jedi.
But few character are much like me. The new character, Jane Yellowrock, of the novel Skinwalker (July 09) is less like me than most, with the exception of how she handled being picked on so called “friends” in her teens. That was similar. But Jane is a Cherokee Skinwalker. By definition she is way different. Way way way different. What she has revealed to me has been so much fun!
As for Delta, we miss her. And she will continue to be a part of my books.
How do you guys work when creating a character?