March 18, 2010

Preguntas answered! (Like my Spanglish?)

I only received 2 questions for my Q&A, but it's enough to fill a whole post. Enjoy!

Erik asks,

This might be a boring, obvious question that you've answered 131 times, but... where/how do you find ideas for interesting characters, and how do you 'construct' your characters?

I know that you don't "steal" real people (that seems like cheating). Do you pick small parts/traits/perks of several people you know, and mix them together? Still, a few traits hardly defines a 'real' person, so that wouldn't be enough. I'm kind of rambling here.

Don't worry, Erik. I'm known to ramble, too. :-)

I described where I get my inspiration for characters a little back in February if you'd like to check that out.

For some, characters introduce themselves fully-formed, but I build my characters, one chapter at a time. It's like watching a long-running TV show. My favorite show is FRIENDS, so I'll use it as an example. If I watch a later season of FRIENDS, Monica, Chandler, Ross, Phoebe, Joey and Rachel feel familiar and consistent, but if I go back to the first season, they feel less familiar and sometimes do things I wouldn't expect them to do, knowing all that I know about them now. I might think, Rachel doesn't act like that now. And it's not that Rachel has changed necessarily, it's that she is fully-formed in the later seasons. When you watch the early seasons, you get the sense that, if the writers could edit those episodes, Rachel would now say or do things a little differently. You actually witness the writers getting to know the characters with long-running shows.

For me, the process is similar, except I can go back and edit. I usually get the idea for a story first, then decide what kind of person would be best suited physically, emotionally, and logically to experience the adventure I've dreamed up. I start with a fairly blank canvas (17 year-old girl named Maggie) and fill in the details organically as my draft gets longer. By the time I begin editing, I know my characters well enough to spot where they are acting out of character and make changes accordingly.

As for where I get the inspiration for my characters' individual traits, I start with a real or fictional person as a jumping off point, then mutate, add, and subtract traits until the final product barely resembles the original inspiration. In my WIP, I have a character loosely based on Molly Weasley, but I think you'd have to be specifically looking for the similarities to spot them.

I also reference THE WRITER'S GUIDE TO CHARACTER TRAITS by Linda Edelstein, which lists hundreds of psychological profiles. I pick a few dominant traits for a character, then consult THE WRITER'S GUIDE to see what traits go hand-in-hand with the ones my character exhibits. I use the ones that gel with my idea of who the character is, and the rest I decide as I write.

Most importantly, when constructing characters I make sure they are flawed, because as my AP Lit teacher used to say, complexity = interesting, and there is no complexity if everyone is super-awesomely flawless.

Debbie Barr asks,
Is the manuscript you are working on your first? Or do you have several others lurking on your hard drive?

The manuscript I am working on is the first I've ever finished. Before I started this novel, I wrote the beginnings (between 60-80 pages each) of three other novels - post apocalyptic, women's fiction, and contemporary - but none of the ideas stuck. The premise behind each is solid, but the delivery was not. I will probably return to them at some point, especially the post apocalyptic one, which was my favorite of the three.

I've also written several poems and personal essays, as well as a few pieces that are too short to be memoir, but are essentially that. I call them non-fiction narrative, though I'm not sure what an agent or editor would think of that. Most of them revolve around my brother's deployment to Iraq in 07-08.

I'm predicting Baylor will beat Kansas 75-70. March Madness picks, anyone?


Erik said...

Thanks for the answer :)

Digital Kitsune said...

My bracket is all screwed up (;_;). I had Kentucky beating Maryland 72-55.

Didn't want the title of your post "Las preguntas contestaron" or "Preguntas con respuesta". (^_^)

Abby Stevens said...

I was far too lazy to make sure I was using proper grammar. :P

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