Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Character Study

Rick here.

Having just finished a novel (for the moment), I've been casting about for what to write next. Since I'm also punching out words for this blog, I've been a little more aware of my personal creative process than I normally would be, mostly because I can write about it here. Here's a little of what I've discovered.

I came up with an initial question around which the whole plot will revolve, my usual method, I might add. Looking at it from all sides for several days, it LOOKED like something around which an entire novel could be built with no trouble. At that point, though, I stopped for several more days to consider who would ask that question and how they would answer it. That really is the heart of the matter when I write a novel, the consuming interest for me: the main character.

I often get depressed when I finish a novel because I realize that I won't get to "hang around" with this person(s) anymore -- unless I use the characters in another book. It feels like I'm saying goodbye to someone who it's doubtful I'll never see again. The novel I've just finished does recycle a few characters from previous novels, but I don't have that intense emotional investment in them that I have had with some of my characters: Tory and Rocky, Michael Quinn, Kit Mason. For some reason, these people really resonated with me. They're very real, very alive in my mind. Interestingly, they're also the characters most people write or speak to me about.

So for the past several weeks, I've spent time getting to know the person who will be at the center of the new book. I can tell you this: she's an opera singer, she has recently had a very tough go of it in her personal life and this spilled over into her career in a bad way. As the story begins, she's just picking things up and getting on with her life when something incredibly jarring happens. She has no idea how to handle it because people already think she's rather nuts. You can see where this is going.

In order to understand her, though, I do have to come up with a complete back story. Even though the vast majority of it won't make it into the book, I have to know everything she went through before the story can begin. Why did she become an opera singer? Did she have any other dreams or ambitions? What are her interests outside of music? Friends? What was her early childhood like? Did her parents understand her career choice? Did they support it? Basically, I need to know everything about this imaginary person in order to make her as real, as tangible and understandable as possible.

Okay, you're probably saying that this is a huge amount of work to simply write a book. Maybe it is, but the most frequent compliment paid to my writing is that the characters seem very real and believable. Is there a correlation? Could be...

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