I’ve shared with a few readers that the first iteration of SOME GIRLS BITE was, well, regrettable. Merit, the earnest main character, was in a band with her friend, Mallory. Merit was insulted by a club’s demand the band, which had performed at the locale many times prior, audition for its new owner. Merit went to the manager’s office to complain about the inconvenience, and she was attacked by a vampire in a dark, back hallway.
I know. Awful, isn’t it?
The next draft of SOME GIRLS BITE had very little in common with the first one—primarily the sneaky vampire attack and the friendship between Mallory and Merit. It took another character coming to mind – Ethan Sullivan – before I knew who Merit really was. He provided a foil: fusty, imperious, gorgeous, and political to Merit’s earnestness, her desire to do good, her intelligence and stubbornness.
Sometimes creating a character isn’t about deciding who she is, but who she isn’t.
It doesn’t always happen that way. Sometime a character comes to mind, fully formed like Venus rising from the foam. (Or in this case, my Ethan brainstorm). Others show me who they are one decision or comment at a time. Even characters created to fill a need can surprise me with their quirks, their triggers, their motivations.
Keeping them straight and keeping them interesting can be a challenge.
I generally remember the voice of each character, but I also have a continuity editor who ensures the details stay straight. I keep “final” copies of each manuscript on my computer, and I can search those if I need to confirm a fact while drafting. That keeps them straight enough.
Keeping them interesting is a different matter. For existing characters, the issue isn’t so much whether they’re interesting, but whether they’re consistent. Are their actions, thoughts, comments in this manuscript consistent with what they’ve said and done before? Do they develop as characters, but not so much that they seem to have changed utterly between novels? Do we learn something new about them in each novel, something that comforts readers (“Yes, that’s the girl/boy we know and love.”) or challenges them (“That action is out of character; he must be really, really upset. Now I understand how alone he feels.”)?
New characters are a different issue. In series, each novel may present a new antagonist, new secondary characters, new tertiary characters. Or we may learn new and important facts about a previous secondary or tertiary character that brings them front and center to the plot.
I’m not certain I know the secret to bringing a new set of characters on stage that feel fresh, although I certainly hope I manage to do it. I suppose the basics are easy—a different physical appearance, a different background. The nuances are harder—the personalities, the interests, the motivations.
What about you? How do you keep your cast of characters fresh?