Listening to Characters

I swear, I never sound crazier than when I’m talking about characters. So let me say that I don’t really believe my characters have an independent existence. It’s a metaphor.

So let the crazy begin.

My plots are all character driven. The things in my stories wouldn’t happen the same way with different people playing the parts. So I try to get to know my characters. When I started writing, I used to draw up a whole resume for each character, however minor, but I came to feel that that level of novel preparation wasn’t really necessary. I had learned, you see, how to get to know my characters.

One tactic I’ve used is to get a different character to gossip about the one that’s giving me trouble. This sometimes causes the stubborn character to defend itself, if he or she dislikes what the other tells me.

See, I told you it sounded crazy.

Another tactic I’ve tried is to promise rewards to a character whose assistance I need. In writing The Sunshine Line I found Kristy wasn’t talking enough. I told her that if she took her proper place in the dialog, I’d let her test for black-belt. I also told her that if she did not cooperate, I wouldn’t give her any credit for figuring out the central mystery of the plot. Carrot and stick. It worked.

Switching to a new narrator for The Spell Builders I was at sea for a bit. Ko is a brownie born in the stone age; she doesn’t have much in common with a human dude born in the 1960s. So I asked her to write me a letter. I learned more in those 612 words than I had managed in weeks of feeling stymied.

So call it crazy or call it letting my imagination run free, it works for me.

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