Characters Writing Themselves

As I walked home from the subway tonight, my mind turned away from work and the book I was reading on the train and toward my new character’s life story. I already know who her parents are and how they got together. But was she an only child? Nah. She has a younger sister. Promising. And an older brother. My mind locks onto them and all the possibilities fire through my head. Images of the brother shift into focus. His name. His age. As if he is telling me his story. But he won’t reveal it all yet. No. He makes me work at getting to know him and when I get it wrong, boy does he let me know. Yeesh. He’s gorgeous by the way. All blond Adonis with unruly curls and blue eyes that sear you from the inside out. He’s the rebel in the family. He went corporate and lives in a flat in London.

The younger sister? She’s in college. She’s like her dad–total surfer, living the southern California dream. But she’s always been jealous of how close the other two are. It’s hard being the youngest by several years. Growing up in her sister’s shadow. Ugh. She was hoping when her sister got married and moved away things would get better. That she’d finally get her parents’ attention. But think again. Her freaking parents started skyping to keep in touch with her sister. Threw themselves into their causes and as usual she was relegated to the back burner. She hasn’t shown me her face yet. I think she is mad that I met her brother first. It wasn’t my fault, he just came up and introduced himself.

I am already in serious like with both of them. I am not sure where or if they will appear in the book. but they are so important to the main character’s development. It’s weird to spend so much time on something I may never share with the reader. But in order for the story to feel real, I have to believe in the world I am weaving. It has to exist.

What’s my favorite part of the process? Hard to say. I love the beginning when inspiration strikes and knocks me over. I also love the point where I know what the characters would and wouldn’t say and do. When I picture them as clear as anyone else I know. But until that day arrives, the naming is my fav thing. Pouring over baby name books until I find the perfect name. It reminds me of T.S. Eliot’s poem:

The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.

For me the character must have a first and a last name, possibly a middle and probably a nickname. But not all will be used. When I can call them by name, they take on that third dimension–suddenly more tangible, more alive. A total turning point in the story and our time together.

So  how do you create characters? Is it a spontaneous thing or a rigorous format? What is the hardest part?

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10 Responses to Characters Writing Themselves

  1. berry says:

    When do we get a glimpse of this story?

  2. I’m keeping the short story under wraps because it evolved into its own novel and I need some time to develop it, but I’ll be posting the first chapter of my other finished manuscript on my website: http://kourtneyheintz.com/index.php?subpage=novels

  3. berry says:

    I find your questions intriguing. Much thought must be given to each character and details are so key to a great story. You have piqued my curiosity . Let’s hear more and soon see more of this!

  4. Gerard says:

    I never thought of how hard it must be to come up with characters, and create entire lives for them, before putting them in a novel. It’s really something I never concentrated on when reading, but now I see how involved and intricate it must be. Keep up the good work. Can’t wait to see the novel.

    • The backstory is so important yet very little of it usually makes it to the page. But I have to know what their lifestory is even if I only tell a small part of it. Otherwise, the characters fizzle. I learned that lesson the hard way. Thnking I could get to know my characters as I wrote my first novel. That made it a very time consuming process with tons of rewrites. Now I take my time to develop the characters first.

  5. berry says:

    Do any of us really. Know who we are. I don’t and wish my life could be written like the characters in your story.

    Love your day to day adventures.

  6. Yeah it’s not something i realized until I started writing them. I did basic character sketches (hair/eyes/height/ethnicity), but when you sit down to write a character you have to know what motivates them. Why they react the way they do. Because it you don’t know, then it probably won’t make any sense to the reader either. Thanks. Once I get through editing, I want to focus on drafting the other book. 🙂

  7. Emma says:

    Wow, you really know your characters! I have to say that I’m pretty amazed how much work you put into creating a backstory for them. You laid everything out in such detail, that is just amazing!

    I’ve tried to write my own little story, but after a few pages I realized that there was something missing. Now I know what it was, I didn’t put enough thought into my characters’ backgrounds and I guess that’s why the whole thing “didn’t click”.

    By the way, thank you sooo much for putting up the first part of the story on your website! It is a great story and sounds very promising! I just love the way you portrayed the relationship between the husband and his wife.

    Can you tell us when the second part will be available, too? I can’t wait to read more and maybe get to know the other characters 🙂

    • Don’t feel bad, I made the same mistake. 🙂 I got to know my characters as I drafted the first few versions of my novel and it showed. I think I’m on version 305 now. I think with writing you have to feel your way through it and find a method that works for you. Some people love notecards, others outlines, and some can keep it all in their head. I make it into a game where I have to guess what happened to make them who they are in the scene.

      I’m so happy to hear you liked the short story! I’m planning to have my web designer upload the next part of the story in early April.

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