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?