Since being lucky enough to land an agent this spring, I’ve often taken stock of the journey. Today, I want to talk about the most enduring aspect of my writing: my characters.
I’ve written five manuscripts, and my characters have never learned the meaning of THE END. And I’d have it no other way. Each characters continues to teach me, to advise me. Maybe it’s a useful form of insanity, but I still hear the voices of my past characters when I’m working on something else. They have … thoughts.
Most* of these thoughts are helpful (*looking at you, James). Here’s what they tell me, and why I encourage you to not shut them out just because you think you’re done with them.
Avery was my first main character. Her story has been floating around since high school. It only took me about twenty years to get around to writing it, so no wonder she isn’t ready to sit down and be quiet yet.
- She reminds me that, whether written or not, you must know what your characters are thinking at all times. You must be able to live completely in their heads. For about a third of her story, she is the only character. Believe me, when I finally ended her isolation, I was so happy to write dialogue exchanges. But the experience of all that internal thought and prose, whether great or terrible to read, taught me so much about knowing who your character really is. To this day, I think I know her better than any of my other characters.
Aniyah makes me so happy. An odd spin-off of a parody Twitter account I used to do, she is the queen of looking on the bright side, despite the rather sad existence that she’s living.
- She is whimsy. She is adventure. She is unimpressed with no-win situations, and if she has to stare down death, she might as well wink at it. When I’m writing, she says hello every time I’m writing an action scene, or something that is truly daunting to that story’s main character, often to mock that character’s reservations. She reminds me that the world is entertaining, so books should be, too. “Have a little fun with this, will ya?” That’s her reminder to me and my characters.
James scares me. Hell, he scared my critique partner on my behalf. Battling bouts of insanity? Nah, more like battling bouts of sanity. I’ve never destroyed a character quite like I destroyed him. There are two things I take from him:
- He reminds me that a character’s past can’t just be washed away by better days. The things that shape a character’s psyche are always in there, and in some cases, only just beneath the surface despite outward appearances. If you create a deep character, then you need to be willing to go into those depths, time and time again.
- James also reminds me that I can, in fact, write a little bit. His story contains a singular chapter that changed everything about how I write, how I view the process, how I view first-person storytelling. Everything that I have written since and will write in the future owes that one chapter a debt of gratitude. I hope each of you have sentences, paragraphs, chapters, or whole stories that did that for you.
Sam is a great frustration. He means well, but (mostly) doesn’t have the capacity to connect the dots to turn “well meaning” into an action.
- Sam reminds me that characters can change if they want something bad enough, whether their motives are naughty or nice. He reminds me to ask again and again, “What do your characters want?” His own answer was rather complicated, but the question has to be asked. If you don’t know what your characters want, you can’t a) give it to them, b) deny them.
And finally, there’s … well, I’m hoping you’ll all get to read my newest main character. So let’s just leave you hanging on her for now.
Thanks for reading.