There are two camps on the origin of characters. Some writers tell you they are “my creation.” Others say the characters exist somewhere, and they have a way to get into your head. If you’ve read the blurb for Summer at the Crossroads and seen the character guest posts, you know what I think.
To me, the process is like building a tunnel. The characters have a way to break through to my consciousness. At first the connection is limited — maybe only enough to get a few ideas into my head. We can just shake hands through the small opening. But they keep digging, I start digging, and the tunnel widens. After a while, more information comes through, and the plot becomes clearer. And the information flow goes two ways. We can “walk” into each other’s worlds and get to know one another.
But just like people in our world, not all characters make it easy. For Summer at the Crossroads, Catherine and her other selves are very much in my head. They let me know in no uncertain terms who’s writing the book — and it isn’t me.
Catherine and Kathryn are always patient, even when I stumble on what they say or how they act. Katarina is chatty and willing to share lots of information — except for the serious undercurrents in life. But we need those elements, and the time came when she had to admit her story wasn’t all fun. Katharine, though, will go silent and stew while I find my way through her story and personality. Even though this was my first novel, she’s never cut me any slack. If I don’t portray her just right, she’ll toss up a brick wall on her story. I’m grateful for that. It’s made me a better writer.
If you’ve read my earlier posts, it’s no surprise that Madeleine and Jack of Death Out of Time don’t act the same way. Remember — they went from science fiction to mystery back to science fiction. And they’ve never pushed me as hard as the folks in the other book. They give a few ideas and then wander off while I flesh out some scenes. Then they’ll look over what I’ve written and suggest revisions. Later, they’ll give me a few more scenes, and we’ll repeat the process.
Maybe that’s why the two books have such different feels to them. The writing, tone, and approach are all different because the characters are all different. That’s even carrying into the sequels. It’ll be interesting to see how future books unfold as new characters find their way into my head.
Oh, yes. Let’s not forget the new characters who come out of nowhere and knock you off your feet.
There’s one in Death Out of Time. I can’t say who without revealing too much. But I can’t explain the feeling I had when I wrote the first scene with him. Where did he come from? There was a history here that I never knew about. We were back to science fiction, but the future of the book (and series potential) took an unexpected twist.
Who are you? I asked when I finished that scene. He just smiled in his way, put a finger to my lips, and said, You’ll see.
And that’s why I love writing by the seat of my pants. Those moments of sheer excitement as new characters reveal themselves and their new plot elements are pure magic to me. I wouldn’t want them any other way.
How about you? Where do your characters come from? Do you have a favorite who appeared out of nowhere and turned the story upside down? Or have you carefully crafted each one to fit your story? Do they yell at you? Tease you? Get jealous of others?