Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Creating Characters

Working on some character building. No, I don't mean enriching my own character, I mean giving a background to those in my stories. I know some people don't do that sort of thing and I don't sit down with a list of story characters and make up who they are ahead. Heck, I don't even know who all my characters are every time - even in this series, sometimes, they just walk onto the scene, and half the time my heroes in this series have done just that. With the exception of Rob Deacon, who was the genesis of this series, the other male leads have just wandered onto the canvas and become someone important somehow.

In other words, my writing is more organic than sitting down with a character list or doing any purposeful plotting. Not that there's anything wrong with such things, I just don't write that way.

But as I'm writing, details emerge about characters and settings and I find that I want to know more about those details. I ask myself if they're realistic and am always thrilled when I come up with something off the top of my head that just makes sense.

I'm sitting here, working on some of these details, because one character, Neil Murphy from Right Here Waiting, has a tattoo and I've debated it for a while. It's like I'm choosing my own tattoo - once I give him this ink, it's there forever! Gotta make sure it works. And Neil, he's a methodical sort of person - he's a sniper, so he's careful and thoughtful. He'd never be spontaneous about that sort of thing. When I wrote the scene where we first see his tattoo, it came out as a tribal armband. But then I realized, nope, that doesn't work for him; he has a job where it wouldn't be a smart decision to have something so visible. And Neil's not stupid, he's really smart. So, I let it lie for a bit, figured, I'll think about it some more.

Then I moved the ink to his pelvis - his girlfriend is the one who is seeing the tat in an intimate moment, so it makes sense and given that Neil would have his ink where it can't easily be seen, well, there you go. But what is it? He's a guy. A very manly man. It can't be a girly tattoo and the pelvic area is sort of iffy. Yeah, it was a challenge to make these decisions. Like I said, because of who he is, it was like choosing my own tattoo! (Not that I have one, but you know, if I did).

Finally, in the last day, I figured it out, something that would be meaningful to him and would work. And now he actually has two tattoos, because another character in a different story mentions his tattoo and I thought...okay, when I originally wrote that, he had a tribal one on his arm. She'd never, ever have seen the pelvic one (ahem). Does he actually have another tattoo? Yes, yes he does. Where is it? What is it? I found one I liked, that worked for both instances (a trifecta on his ribcage over his heart - he's Irish and religious), but I thought, Yeah. That's great, but while it's probably pretty sexy if you like tattoos, it's nowhere near as sexy as one you're sure is something many people have seen. That's still not his only tattoo. He has one Nina has never seen. I couldn't find any Celtic stuff that didn't seem too girly and he's not going to have a tribal tat there - I decided that a while ago. Words. It would be words. Ones that were meaningful to him, that would say something to him. Of course. They're upside down so he can read them. And in a Celtic script, but not Gaelic words. Nope. Latin. Because he's that kind of guy - scholarly, smart. And upside down Latin words in a Celtic script would be hard to read. Perfect!

Anyway, I shared all that detail because it reminded me of this project we did in English class, sophomore year in high school. We read Oliver Twist and our teacher made us write dossiers for the characters. At the time, I probably didn't get the significance of what we did, not really. But what she was doing was getting us to build the characters. Who are they? What motivates them? What scraps of evidence can we gather to illustrate this background, this definition of these people? I loved that project. I didn't like much of anything else that teacher taught, but loved creating those dossiers. Given my penchant for making up stories in my head and my love of inventing those dossiers, I guess it should be no surprise that I'm a writer.

So thanks, Mrs. Lane, for assigning that project. It has helped me be a better writer. And thanks, internet, for making it easier to get the job done!

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