Monday, April 18, 2011

Inventing a Person

Recently I started my second book.

I didn't expect that to happen - I'm still plodding through revisions on my first book, and since I can't do two things at once, I hadn't planned to start the next one until I began the submission process on the first. But novels are funny things ... they want to be written when they want to be written. It's an impulse that's a little hard to control - something I learned the first time around!

My second novel's main character is a secondary character in my first novel. It's not a sequel by any means, but the character in question is one who took on a compelling life of her own as I was writing, and she's continued to inspire me. I've been chewing on her life story ever since she plowed her way into the lives of my other characters, and last weekend, her story simply came together. I plotted it out the best way a pantser can, and now I'm off and running.

It's a little terrifying, since it means not only doing two things at once, but doing 25 things at once. I'm so busy right now I can barely see straight. And I can't let myself lose momentum on revising the first book. But it feels SO good to be moving on another project, and it feels good to be back inside this character's life, back inside her head.

Which leads me to my real topic of the day ... crafting a character. Starting this book has been a very different experience from starting the last one because this time, I started not with a plot but with a person, fully formed. I approached the plot of the book with this question: Where does she go from here? After answering that, I set about figuring out exactly where she came from and how she came to be who she is. I figured out who the secondary characters are in HER life. It's been an interesting process. It's always an interesting process to give life to a new character.

I read a blog post at Writer's Digest about this topic that was so true I can't not quote it: "Often our characters first appear to us as we flesh out the idea for a story. But characters who emerge from story ideas can often be flat or two-dimensional; this is because at that early stage, they serve the purpose of filling a role, rather than acting as independent beings...."

I definitely found that to be the case as I wrote my first book. I started with a story idea, and my MC was the vehicle to make that story happen. Once I had a completed first draft and a few brave souls had volunteered to read it for me, I realized from their feedback that my MC was the manuscript's biggest problem. She wasn't coming across exactly as I intended, and I realized through the revising process that it was because I didn't know her quite well enough. I didn't have a solid enough grasp on her goals and motivations, her fears and vulnerabilities, her strengths and especially her weaknesses. I'd made a series of things happen to her that she didn't quite know how to react to because she wasn't yet fully formed. That wasn't the case with the book's other characters. They sprang to life on page in a way she didn't. And again, while editing, I realized the reason for that: With my other characters, I'd started with just that, the characters, and let the story flow from them rather than fitting them into the story. With one major character, I had a loose plot in place that I decimated once I learned who he was, what he would and wouldn't do.

And eventually, finally, that began happening with my main character. (Oh, what a happy day that was!) After months of revisions, she's finally found her voice.

Basically, what all this means is that I'm a pantser in every sense of the word. Which means that as I get deeper into this second book, my whole "outline" might get blown out of the water.

But that's OK. Because characters are people, too, and you just can't ever predict what people will do.

Photo by b_d_solis

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