As I mentioned in last week’s Back-to-Basics post, I’ve been hanging out with some potential new stories while working on revisions to The Traitor. The stories are shiny and new and, just as Justine mentioned in her post yesterday, working on them provides a nice change of pace as well as a creativity boost.
One of these stories, a contemporary romance tentatively titled Second Chances, is really shaping up. The random ideas I’ve captured so far have translated into a fairly complete story outline. The first two acts are pretty solid, I got a strong idea for the third act yesterday, and I know how it all ends.
Before I get to the stage of putting words down on the (draft) page though, there are a few more things I need to figure out. Unlike The Traitor, where I just started writing and hoped I would figure everything out by the end of the story, I want to have a stronger foundation in place this time around.
This week my focus is on: Character
We’ve talked a lot on this blog about how important it is that characters have strong goals and motivations (we’ll talk more about that next week). Before you get to that point, however, you need a clear idea of who your characters really are. The posts here, here, and here provide some practical exercises for learning about your characters. You can also Google “character worksheet” and find links for lists of character attributes that you may want to think about when defining your characters. From basic information like name, age, and physical characteristics, to the more in-depth strengths, weaknesses, and experiences, the worksheets can help you develop interesting, believable characters. An example of a very robust character worksheet can be found here.
“Character is the sum total of a person’s choices.” ~ P. B. Fitzwater
It can also be helpful to think about how your character might react in certain basic situations. For example, how do they wake up in the morning? Do they bounce out of bed, throw on some clothes and head out the door eager to face the day or do they push the snooze button multiple times, drag themselves to the coffee pot, and then race around to avoid being late? If your main characters turn out to have very different styles, it can set up some interesting conflicts down the line in the story.
So, what do I know about the characters in Second Chances so far?
The protagonist is Maddie. She’s in her late twenties, divorced, and works in the business field (consultant, maybe). She worked at the SBA (small business administration) at one point, helping owners get their businesses up and running. That is where she first met the antagonist, Sam, when he was starting up his construction business. The careers of both characters were primarily driven by plot points in the story rather than my thinking “hey, what would happen if I got a consultant and a construction guy together?”
There are a number of secondary characters including Bella (the best friend), Jack (Maddie’s annoying brother), and Mags (Maddie’s grandmother, who is sharp as a tick and drives the plot more than anyone realizes). I’ve also uncovered some random things about the characters, like the fact that Maddie and Sam both like Butter Pecan ice cream, and Etta James’ At Last was the first-dance song played when Maddie was married.
I still have more details to pin down (hair color would be good to know), but I’m making good progress. I’m hoping this up-front work will help me get a cleaner draft on the page, or at least a draft with vibrant characters.
So, how do you get to know your characters? Do you “learn as you go” or do you define them up front?