Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Are Your Characters Underdeveloped?

Jennifer talks about getting to know your characters...

As a pantser, I usually start out with a pretty good idea of some piece of the story. It might be a scene that appears fully fleshed out in my head. It might be a conversation between two characters. It might even be a location. From there, I generally can come up with the premise for my book, and from there, I sit down and write.

I’ll admit, it’s not very organized and it does have its downsides; mainly, I often end up writing about characters I don’t know very well. Usually, I learn this because I get to a point in the story and I don’t know what happens next. I don’t know what the character would do in a situation, or why they react the way they are reacting. Often, when I go back and reread the manuscript, I find they have done a complete one-eighty and done something that I never expected them to do and that frankly, doesn’t work with the way I’ve set up the story. It’s times like these, as I’m doing major rewrites, that I wish I was a plotter.

The current manuscript I’m writing has some definite holes in it. I’ve been working on it for a long time and in addition, I’ve taken several extended breaks from it. Therefore, my characterizations aren’t consistent. But for me, I need to get to the end before I go back and fix things; otherwise, I’ll remain in a constant state of rewriting and never finish my manuscript.

I attended a workshop by Roxanne St. Clair at my local RWA conference and she talked about an interesting writing method that works for her. She writes the first 100 pages and then goes back to the beginning. She then writes through to page 250 and once again goes back to the beginning. Finally, she writes to the end. The reason she does it in stages is because she doesn’t feel she knows her characters well enough, and by writing this way, she’s able to fully understand her characters and make sure they are consistent and well developed throughout the manuscript.


It’s an interesting concept and in the future, I might actually try it. But for now, I’m plodding along to the end. My writing road is windy and has lots of dead ends that I need to fix, but it’s getting there. And by the end, I’ll know my characters.

6 comments:

  1. Getting to know your characters is like peeling an onion, to me. I have a basic idea of the main characters' core issues when I start a story. I know I want the H/H to get together after struggling through these core issues in ways that force them to abandon their original set beliefs. Once I have that overarching story arc (story skeleton) for the H and H, I create and read horoscopes for them that put flesh and skin (Backstory) out their bones. I have a pretty good idea of who they by the time I finish a story outline. Naturally, this outline will get revised as I write, because new, good ideas will pop into my head--or the characters will take over and demand a new twist.
    As we've talked about before, each author's process is her own--whether she knows her characters before she starts the actual writing, or she gets to know them while writing drafts and editing.
    I've done both, and the get to know before I actually write is winning as a process for me.

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    1. I've always been amazed by your horoscopes, Ana.

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  2. I get to know my characters as I write the first draft - and I do exactly what Roxanne St Clair suggested - I go back every so often and layer in the extra details about the characters.

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    1. I'd like to try it, I'm just concerned it will mess up my momentum.

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  3. I almost always have to go back and tweak things in early chapters once I've gotten to know my characters. It's usually not anything too major, just enough to add some of those layers and deepen the readers' understanding of who they are right from the beginning.

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    1. I always have to fix my early chapters!

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