Cheese Platters and Back-Stories
Welcome to this week's blog post! For those who read the last one, I discussed where my story characters come from and how they go from mysterious mind-voices to living, breathing...imaginary friends.
Yeah, they still kinda...live in my head.
But, now that we've accepted that they are real people trapped inside my mind, it's time to really get to know them. You know - put out a platter of deli meats and cheeses, a few handfuls of Jatz, then offer them a tasty beverage while we discuss the inner workings of their mind and the reason for their existence. Standard procedures.
Once they're all assembled on the mismatched couch chairs and are nomming away, it's time to get the conversation rolling. Now, the cast of characters you have around you depends entirely on what you're writing. For those of you who write non-fiction, please take your nibbles and drinks into another room - you probably don't need to be here for the rest of this. After all - you likely have either your own back-story or the history of your characters pretty well sorted, am I right? But, by all means, please hang around - there's plenty more Jatz and dip.
For my fellow fiction-ers, there are any number of possible guests filling your story, whether you're writing romance, mystery, crime, fantasy, and so on. Your cast may be small, or a full ensemble. In my story, I currently have a dozen 'primary' characters, with several more who play important roles. Every one of them has a back-story that shapes who they are, how they behave, why they think the way they do...just like real people. Because, to me, they are. And I love them all. Oh, yes - I have many, many friends.
I am a very detail-oriented person. I love learning, and understanding the ins-and-outs of things. People fascinate me. Not in a creepy stalker way - I just enjoy seeing how different dynamics work or don't work. Robotic, one-note characters just don't do it for me; if Mary-Lou is sweet as pie all the time, I lose interest. Give her a deep, dark secret that she is hiding behind that overly bright smile and triple-layer chocolate cake she "just whipped up," then you have my attention.
Even the 'bad guys' - why do they want the things they want? Be it power, or money, or just to cause suffering - what is their reasoning for doing what they do? What, to them, justifies their actions? And, equally, what motivates the 'good guys' to stop them? Are there even any 'bad' or 'good' sides at all? Ethics, morality, shades of grey - these are my bread and butter when it comes to developing well-rounded, interesting characters. It makes them real. People are flawed, complicated, wonderful messes.
Yes, even you, Mary-Lou Chocolate-cake.
Alright, so, back to the couches with our chips and dips. Let's start with my main girl, Neala. I won't go into spoiler territory by discussing her 'present and future' story, because, um...that's kind of what my books are about, hyuck hyuck hyuck. But, in order to shape her into the clever, stubborn, socially-awkward teen she is now, I needed to uncover the secrets of her childhood. For instance, I now know she was raised on a farm in the middle of the Aussie outback. Life out there naturally gave her a tough edge - the environment can be harsh and lonely at times. But it also gave her a deep understanding of the cycles of nature and the land. An only child, and isolated away from others, her parents were her world. She didn't have friends, or kids her own age to hang out with, which has shaped her awkwardness when meeting people. It has also matured her in many areas, while leaving her somewhat immature in others. Thus, we now have a deeper understanding of Neala's inner workings and it gives greater depth to her character and how she interacts with the world from her perspective.
Of course, her whole history won't make it into the book. Oh, no, no - that is mainly for my benefit. Hints will be dropped, of course, to help the reader understand her better, but fleshing out a back-story is really for my benefit. I have a journal stuffed with notes about my characters that will never see the light of day. Their favourite foods, childhood memories, experiences they had, most embarassing moments, etc. Little diaries, just for them. And for me. It's all part of the 3D development that changes a character from a faceless name in a book to an actual person who could just step out of the page and become real. Then sit on my couch eating all my snacky-snacks.
Whew, okay - that's one character history down. Only fifteen or so more to go. Ha! Just kidding - the cheese will be sweaty and gross if I make you hang around that long. I'm not that cruel.
The point to my ramblings is that knowing my characters inside and out makes writing sooo much easier for me. When a DRAMA happens, I know instintively how everyone will react, without needing to think about it much. I know who will cry, who will shock-laugh, who will run and who will fight. Most importantly, I know why they'll make certain choices throughout the story that will impact the direction the plot takes. With so many character threads woven into my books, losing track of one will lead to disaster - well, a large, tangled clump, at least. By taking the time to really examine them, to treat them like real people with history and backgrounds and life experiences, it makes telling their story so much less stressful.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some tidying up to do...
Catch you next week for more ramblings! BYO Jatz!