The Character with No Name
A huge thanks to Faith Hunter for inviting me to be here during January. I’m excited to hang out with you all, discussing writerly things with writerly people. Since I’m back “in the writing cave” after the holidays, I need the social contact!
Today I get to talk about craft—creating a character, to be precise. And I’d like to focus on one of my characters in particular. As luck would have it, Faith, who is making a wonderful habit of issuing fantastic invitations to me, asked me to write a novelette for an anthology she was editing called Kicking It, and after I jumped at the opportunity, I settled down and wondered what (and who) I was going to write about. An established character from a series I’d already published? A new character altogether? Or a spin-off character who previously played a supporting role in a series? Honestly, I’d just gone to New Orleans, and I’d come up with about ten story ideas there, but I wasn’t sure who would star in any given plot.
But before I even started to tangle with that question, I realized that novelettes aren’t exactly…long. We’re talking under 14,000 words here! Since Kicking It is an urban fantasy collection, how could I present a fully formed character while jumping right into some dark action and paranormal adventure in a short format?
Then the answer hit me—if my character had amnesia and she woke up in a strange bed in a strange room not knowing who she was or why she was there, I could avoid a lot of backstory and get right into the action. Nice! The reader would be discovering the ins and outs of my character right along with the character herself. (Hence, the title of the story, “The Girl with No Name.” Tah-dah!)
Problem one down. But the main question still remained—who was this mysterious girl without an identity? I decided to go with a spin-off character from my Vampire Babylon series. (I won’t get into spoiler territory here, so I’ll keep her name out of it. <G>) Then I matched her up with the one thing every novelette in Kicking It required—a pair of paranormally inclined shoes or boots. So Girl with No Name woke up wearing a pair of odd boots that resembled vines, and she couldn’t pry them off her legs. Based on some vague memories, she also wasn’t sure if these boots, which seemed to give her some interesting powers, might belong to someone who wanted them back. Badly.
Great. So I had a situation and I had a character. But this character would need to be a “reboot” of herself. (Yeah…hah-hah. Get it?) Because of her fate in the Vampire Babylon stories, she was in dire need of a fresh start, and that gave me the chance to build a character who has some significant baggage and backstory while reshaping her during this new, life-changing experience she goes through in Kicking It. In effect, she was close to being a new character.
So I did what I always like to do when discovering who my character is.
First, I charted out her goals, motivations, and conflicts (external and internal). (If you’re unfamiliar with this process, I highly recommend Debra Dixon’s book Goal, Motivation, and Conflict.) Then I dove into a list of interview questions that I ask all my main characters:
*What does she do for a living? Why?
*What’s her family like and how does her upbringing affect her now?
*What is her worst fear? (This one always figures into the plot because the worst fear is always realized by the end of the story.)
*What kind of clothing does she wear? Why?
*Any distinguishing physical characteristics?
*Body type? How does she feel about her body?
*What is her favorite saying/motto? (This is usually the character in a nutshell. Maybe it’s a cliché, like “What comes around goes around.” Or maybe it’s something different, like “Screw me once, yay for me. Screw me over, you’re gonna pay.” I would have to say that Girl with No Name embraces the latter motto. <G>)
*What kind of hobbies does she have? (Anything quirky? How do these round her out as a person? Any evidence of them in her home or workplace?)
*What would you have found written in her high school yearbook? (What’s beneath her picture? Any awards or dreams that have since died? How did other people view her?)
*What is her love history?
*What would you find in her purse?
*What tangible object would symbolize her? (This could tie in with the theme of your story.)
*What kind of education does she have?
*Where does she live? Why?
I’m sure you can think of a million more questions. This process is sort of like playing Barbies or paper dolls for me—and I can still get away with it because “it’s my job.” ; )
This list has served me pretty well, no matter what I’m writing: urban fantasy, dark fantasy, romance, or new adult. It even works for ghosts—and I say that because my main character for my new series that’s coming out February 4 is, in fact, a ghost, LOL. Jensen Murphy, Ghost for Hire, was murdered in the 1980s, and I if I had the power to invite her to dinner with Girl with No Name, I’d ask them a lot more questions that I haven’t even thought of yet.
What kinds of questions do you all ask your characters? (I’d love to add them to my list!)
Chris Marie Green/Crystal Green
The She Code
Chris Marie Green is the author of ONLY THE GOOD DIE YOUNG, the first book in the Jensen Murphy, Ghost for Hire series from Roc, which features a fun-loving spirit from the 80s. She also wrote the urban fantasy Vampire Babylon series from Ace Books
She tries her best to avoid international incidents whenever she takes a break from her first love, writing, and cheats on it with her other true love—traveling. She has alter egos named Christine Cody, who wrote the dark fantasy Bloodlands trilogy, and Crystal Green, who likes to write romance.