Friday, July 13, 2012

Discovering People Vs. Crafting Characters

I have written two books and am currently writing a third. 

The first book would probably be considered 'New Adult,' though I pitched it to agents as Contemporary Women's Lit with some chagrin.

The second is the first in a YA series. 

The third is a standalone YA Contemporary. 

My main characters in book one consist of two boys and two girls, the two girls being my narrators.

I have a very large cast that makes up my YA series, but I have four narrators who walk (sometimes run) readers through book one.

And finally, the third book. Single narrator. A seventeen year old girl. That's all. She has a supporting cast, but for the most part, she's the story. 

I consider myself a character-driven writer. In fact, creating a character-driven story in a plot-centric work was one of the biggest challenges I faced in the two years it took me to write Book One: YA Series. Compared to the less-than-six-months it took to complete my New Adult novel the YA slogged along. It also took me longer to get to know, really know, my characters in my YA world.

I recently I read the first fifty pages or so of a manuscript that pulled every trope and cliche out of the metaphorical ditch (where they belong!) and put them to work fabricating a story so the author wouldn't have to actually write one.


Basically? This author didn't know her characters from Adam and Eve.

I see this problem all too often in genre-fiction, and as awesome as YA is, it can fall into this pattern without too much effort. Paranormal romance and Dystopia, I'm looking at you.

So here's a look into my writing life, and how I suggest you discover (not craft) people (not characters) betwixt the pages of your next novel.

I ask myself these questions when plotting a novel and for the purposes of this post I'm going to answer them on behalf of my newest character, who we shall call A.

-A (Pretty Little Liars)

If this character were to go to college, what major would they declare?

Well, A is very depleted at the beginning of the novel. She actually discovers writing in the middle while in the middle of Hollywood, so I feel that she would want to get her feet wet, maybe take some creative writing courses, but also expand and try her hand in several other fields. 

Character walks into Target, which department does he/she make a beeline for and why?

A would go to the kitchen section first. Because it reminds her of her dad.

Forget what color eyes Character has, if they were charged with throwing a party, would it be a big, or small affair, are they thinking Pizza or Plaza, and finally, is there dancing, swimming, movie-watching, poetry-reading or truth-or-daring involved, and why are the choices they make their own? 

A would have a slumber party, just her and her best friend. A would make all the food. They would watch 80's dance movies which best friend K would mimic. There would be soul sharing and very little sleep. 

The why is because she trusts very little about her life. It's all luster on the surface, but the inside of the Hollywood Hills Mansion she calls home echoes. 

I have to have lunch with my character. Do I hate him/her, or have I just discovered my new best friend by the time we leave the table?

A wouldn't dominate the conversation, so it's hard to discern if we're 100% compatible, really. I know she makes me feel comfortable, and in some ways I would probably mow her over in my effort to get to know her, but I would definitely ask if she'd like to do coffee.

And finally, I want to know what Character would think of my closet, my bookshelves, my Ipod and my car. 

(If I orient characters around my own tastes, or their lack of a palette where my own favorites are concerned, then I am far less likely to rely on what I feel is "comfortable" in order to write a character.)

VW Bug

A would think my closet is a bit much. She would dig my taste in music and she would want to live in my office, where I keep all the books. She thinks her car is better, and I agree, the Bug is a good baby.

Don't create a character, discover a person.

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