Monday, September 6, 2010

Character At First Sight?

(Disclaimer: While I fully intended to return in September to a schedule of posting five times a week, it has come to be my opinion that my summer schedule of posting three times a week is much better; therefore, I'll be sticking with it for the foreseeable future. And yes, I just used a semi-colon, because they -- and people who use them -- are just that awesome.)

First of all, a welcome to any newcomers to the blog. Glad to have you with us. I'd put out cookies, but I'm told that Internet cookies are generally unwelcome. And happy Labor Day to everyone. :)

On the regularly scheduled programming...

Once upon a time, I watched an episode of
Bones in which Booth talks to Bones about old married couples who claim that they just saw each other and knew that they belonged together. Then, once upon a slightly later date, I read a column by Dan Savage who claimed that such a phenomenon is (and I'm paraphrasing) mostly caused by couples who've been together a while misremembering how they met and imagining that they always knew what they've now long for so long but didn't know at first.

I'm not going to say how I feel about actual life couples in this instance, but the difference between these views certainly reminds me of different perspectives on character-writer relationships. (Bet you didn't see that coming.)

I once heard a story that J.K. Rowling said that Harry Potter walked into her head fully formed. That would be, in my opinion, an example of the
Bones case.

There is another way. I know that personally, characters usually do not march into my head fully formed. Instead, I tend to see snatches of their lives flashing before my eyes, not their whole self. For example, with Cordamant's Heir, I think the first thing I ever saw of Amira's life was her execution. There's a lot I'm still learning about her in the writing process. Or, with the Thief Book, the first thing I knew was the Code, then DiSpirito. The MC didn't arrive until later. I think of this as the Dan Savage style.

This got me wondering if characters do appear to some people in a magical vision or something. Maybe some characters really do appear before an author fully formed and demand to have their story told, a la
Six Characters in Search of an Author. That hasn't been my experience, but I'm not the world's leading authority on the subject. Maybe people find a character slowly, but misremember is as happening in a flash. I don't know. I still remember where all of my MCs have come from, and so I doubt I"m likely to misremember them in the future.

I don't know if either method is better or worse than another. All I know is what works for me, and what works for me has been working pretty well so far.

How does it work for you? Do your characters come to you all at once or in bits and pieces? Do you get a mix of both? Do you have a preference? Fan of Bones?


  1. I just found your blog over at Elana's!!! I guess I'm putting my own tips of how to follow someone to good use!!!

    My characters slowly come to me, they normally spend about two weeks developing, teaching me things, what they like, what they hate, who they dislike, until it's time to write them. It's a process :)

  2. My characters come in pieces. Bits and pieces. I really don't understand them or their motivations until the end of the first draft. Then I have to rewrite the book to make it match. Good thing I like rewriting and revising just as much as writing!

    And yes, I like Bones.

  3. Definitely a pieces route. My MC has been working with me in un-related projects for the past 5 years, so I've had a LOT of time to get to know her. Unfortunately, she's quite a bit more vocal than her supporting characters, so until I get her main story down, I don't think they're going to be telling me much.

    Bones is amazing. I love House too—mostly for the title character—because the characters are written (and acted) so believably.

    PS- Man, Evil Editor sure likes to lay waste, eh?

  4. Too funny. Considering I'm writing a memoir now, the characters (depending on how you look at it) are fully formed. In fact, I had the "I knew he was the one for me experience" when I met the other character in my book twenty years ago. As for fictional characters, let's say I'm writing YA or MG, my characters come partly formed and get developed along the way.

    Bones? Yeah, they show it here in France. My husband's kids love it. Me? I'm not fully fluent in French as of yet so watching an entire show without subtitles gives me a killer migraine. (I actually have to listen and concentrate...)

  5. Interesting perspective. For me, things come in flashes, not fully formed. But since that happens all the time, by the time I sit down to write the idea is usually fully formed, so it's hard to keep track of where it came from. (If that makes sense). And don't worry about intermittent summer posting, I seriously usually only post about once a month now so I can see how less is easier :)

  6. I had a story rolling around in my head for a few years before the MC graced me with her presence. Of course, then she took her sweet time unveiling her wonderful, nuanced personality. (Weird details would keep me up at night.) It wasn't until I read through the finished draft that she became solid.

    PS. I'm poaching from Elana today too ;)

  7. Jen -- Process is good, especially if it works. Thanks for stopping by. We're glad to have you.

    Vicki -- Wow, five years is a long time to stick with one character. I'm impressed. As far as the EE goes, much as I love being raked over the internet coals, I think my query will be the better for the revisions he's inspired.

    Samantha -- Your French must be very impressive if you can grasp anything of Bones in French, even if it does require all your focus. I know I'd get lost the second she jumped into medical speak.

    Tiania -- Thanks for taking the time to comment. I too usually wait for ideas to fully bake in my mind as well, though on some level I'm always aware that there are things I'm missing.

    Carolyn -- Thanks for dropping by. :) I think a lot of MCs and other characters take their sweet time unveiling themselves. I've definitely been there with you on an MC's slow arrival.