Thursday, January 12, 2012

Getting to know you

"Mom!" my son called from his bedroom, "My school pants are too small!"

Of course it was the first day of school, and before you chastise me for being a disorganised mother for not making sure that school clothes were in order before the start of the semester, note that it was the first day after the Christmas holidays. Children aren't supposed to grow over the Christmas vacation, are they?

As I write my fourth book in the Caribbean Adventure Series, I am faced with the dilemma of growing children. In my first three books, I let the book lead me. Don't get me wrong, I know my characters well. I can see their faces, expressions and mannerisms in every scene. With book 4, I feel the need to be sure that while the children are impacted by the events that unfold in the story, that they grow and change in a way that makes sense given who they are.

So I am writing a detailed biography of the characters that will hold me in good stead if there are additional books. This includes details on what the characters look like in great detail, where they live and were born, physical quirks, their siblings and parents, weaknesses, and deepest desires and fears. The last item is crucial as the fears are a potential source for conflict in the story and what child does not have interesting an irrational fears? The behavioral traits are the most interesting. How does the character behave differently with adults than with other children, for example; with his friends as against his siblings.

Some of the details may be relevant to this book and some may not, but I believe that the better that I know these children, the better my book will be.

How deep you you dig when creating characters for your books?

(Couldn't resist this one ...


The Divorced Lady's Companion to Living in Italy said...

I loved that last sketch. I dragged out my youngest son's ski gear at the beginning of the season and he couldn't squeeze on his helmet - no matter how hard his mother tried!

I love detail in description, but swift concise detail, not a labouring picture that pulls on the imagination. I love sinking into a character and skimming on the text.

Have a great writing year! ciao cat

A Beer for the Shower said...

Hey now, I have interesting and irrational fears and I'm an adult.

I love to dig deep when I'm creating characters. For me, I almost become a character actor... when I do something in real life, I think, how would my character react to this? What would he/she do and say?

Charles Gramlich said...

For major characters I do a lot of thinking about them and their background. I don't try to do too much pre-analysis of their personalities, though. I like to see that develop as they interact with people in the story.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Love the cartoon, Carol. For my adult stand alone novels I get to know my characters minimally and grow with them as they get into situations.

I'm learning that that approach does not work well for series books, whether they target children or adults. For wrting series books, a detailed pre-analysis of the main characters' personalities, quirks, and family lives is essential because each book places them in different situations. Their reactions should be consistent while allowing room for growth and change.

KeVin K. said...

When freewriting, my first stage in developing an idea, I usually begin with dialog adding names, location, etc., as the conversation reveals personalities. (No, I do not think my characters are real. This is just my method for letting the right brain tell the left brain what it's been up to.) I tend not to overdevelop adult characters in case the needs of the story conflict with what I thought was a good idea three weeks ago. However, I can see where writing for and about children has different requirements.

Good point on the needs of a series, Liane. I've drawn a detailed map of the coastal Carolina town as part of the groundwork for my detective series. And, because I want to develop a series of interrelated stories, I'm working out a relationship diagram for everyone involved in the lives of my romance protagonists. There is a danger in this, of course; all your time and creative energy could be absorbed by preparation.

Two of my favorite series to reread -- Brother Cadfael and Horatio Hornblower -- began with stand-alone novels, and the transition is very clear. There are significant changes in cast, geography, and personalities between Ellis Peters' "A Morbid Taste for Bones" (stand alone) and "One Corpse Too Many" (now counted as 2nd volume of the series, but really the first written as part of a series, introducing many players). CS Forester wrote "Beat to Quarters" as a stand alone. It's the fifth book in the finished series and jarringly dissimilar to the others.

G said...

I try to draw on real life, be it mine (drab and dull) or other people that I know, to create my characters.

I do have a tendency to look at the characters I write as one who has a working knowledge of all the people involved that the characters are based on, and try to adjust accordingly.

Carol Mitchell said...

Very interesting to read the different approaches. Thanks for sharing.