First of all, my thanks to Jennie Bentley for asking if I’d be interested in guest blogging for her while she is out gallivanting around the European countryside, no doubt in search of her long lost Swedish Stripper, Freddy.
Speaking of Freddy, while Jennie is without internet access, I’d like to address the rumor that I may be Jennie’s Freddy. A while ago, she tagged me to post 6 truths about myself. I’ve been a bit remiss in answering that post, so real quickly here are my truths:
1. I’ve been to a strip club.
2. I won a sexy legs contest.
3. I’ve hung upside down from a pole.
4. I’ve undressed in front of a group.
5. I danced in a dress in front of over 400 people to the tune of “Feel Like A Woman” while on a cruise.
6. I won a beauty contest.
I hope that clears things up.
I have another confession to make. I’m an engineer, a true left brainer. By the way, do any of my truths seem in character for the stereotypical engineer? Well, most of us left brainers are better at plotting than character development. When I first took on the task of writing, I believed that plot alone could drive a novel. I no longer believe that. Even when my publisher first evaluated my manuscript, the feedback suggested I do a little more to develop the characters. So, like the maniac researcher I am, I learned all I could about developing characters.
A writer creates characters and then lives with them for a while. In some cases, months or even years. You'd think we'd get to know them well. And then someone asks a question that throws you for a complete loop.
Let me explain. I've been working on A Reason For Dying since the end of 2004 - 3+ years. The characters in the novel seem like acquaintances, some of them seem like family. Over the course of time, you get to know these fictitious folk. You know what they look like, what they act like, what they like to eat, even how they make out (that’s “make love” for all you ladies out there). As a writer, you absolutely need to know everything about your characters. After all, you are controlling their world, making their decisions, setting the course of their actions. They need to be, well, their own person. They need to be consistent. Otherwise they won’t come alive on paper.
When I first started writing, I never would have believed that I would be hearing my characters in my head or dominating my dreams. But it happens. Just like a mother seems to know what her newborn child wants, an author should know what their characters want and what they will do to get it. I took the advice of other authors and prepared backgrounds on my major characters. I know plenty about my protagonist Laura Daniels that isn’t revealed in the 1st novel. Some of it I use in the second novel, but a lot of it will likely never to be written about, ever. But it’s that stuff that defines her character and makes her act like Laura Daniels and not Wilfred Bereswill. God help her if she acted like me.
By the way, she looks a lot like Evangeline Lilly in Lost, only her hair is lighter.
Some of my characters are so well defined, my wife, who is invaluable to me as a critique reader, knows when they do something out of place and she let’s me know it. She also gets a little jealous when I spend too much time with Laura.
Here’s a real life example: Your 15 year old daughter who has never in her life done yard work, comes up to you and says, “Dad, if you show me how to start the lawnmower, I’ll mow the lawn.” Or your wonderful wife insists that you go out and buy that fifty-eight inch LCD flat panel, 1080p television with a new 7.1 surround sound receiver and Blu-Ray disc player. The hair on the back of your neck stands up with alarms and whistles sounding and your mind immediately stops thinking about whatever it was thinking about. Something is amiss. Something is terribly wrong with the universe.
It’s the same thing when your character does something completely out of sync. The reader is immediately taken out of the story.
So there I was, content that I really knew my characters and then somebody asked me some interesting questions about Laura Daniels...
What is the arc of her "hero's journey" story — what internal demons is she facing as she confronts these external terrorists?
Who's on her side, and who's going to take her by surprise?
What are her greatest strengths and weaknesses?
What does she personally stand to lose?
And what's at stake in the larger picture — what does the world stand to lose if she doesn't succeed?
These are questions I was asked when I sought help on writing the back cover copy. These are questions an experienced writer asks if they need to know about your characters. I was able to respond, but I had to really think about them first, which surprised me.
So, how well do you know your characters? What methods do you use to develop your characters? Does your significant other get jealous of you spending all that time with them?
I feel a need to clear up a few of my truths. The pole I hung upside down was on the swing set in my back yard and I undressed in the locker room after gym class. The rest is up to you all to figure out. A guy has to keep some secrets.
Is the natural gas you use to heat your home and cook your food really safe?
Is it possible that viruses ravaged prehistoric life millions of years ago and lie dormant in oil and gas reserves, waiting to be released once again to lay waste to yet another species?
It has happened before.
Is it about to happen again?
A REASON FOR DYING
Debuts Summer 2008
Hilliard and Harris