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Friday, June 10, 2011

Characters Real or not Real

I find when conversing with my friend Phillip Woody, who by the way came up with the title of my second book, and my editor about characters in the book and why they do this or that or what is going to happen to them, that I discuss the characters as if they were alive and real people.  It bothers me in the same way that some people will relate what happened on their favorite TV sitcom and this character did this or that like they are real people and that really happened.  Because I know they are characters and not real.  Yet when I catch myself defending a character or saying 'No they wouldn't do that, because of this . . .' then I get that feeling like OMG am I becoming a nerd who exists in some altered state of reality.
Through computer social networking I am coming in contact with many writers, including my role model, Mr. James Rollins, and I wonder if this is a common phenomenon that happens with writers and their characters?
Any writer, who is doing a large fictional book, and especially if it is going to be a series of books, needs to have a method of recording the characteristics, descriptions, events in the characters life and important details about the character so they can refer back and make sure things don't change throughout the series and make you look like a blooming idiot.  It is easy to forget that you mentioned them do this or that at a particular time and then contradict yourself later by having them do something else.
I have to confess I figured this out when writing my first novel and realized while editing it that Wiley Randolph's XO mentions his wife early in the book and then at the end of the book she had a different name.  So obviously I had to go back and change one of the sections of the book and I opted for changing the front of the book where her name was mentioned once rather than the end of the book where it is mentioned several times.  After that I started a new word document where I went through and described each character from their descriptions in the book and added any details brought out through the story.  This actually required reading the entire book slowly and continually flipping over to the other document to add facts and data as I read through the book.
For my second book I started with the story outline and the character sheet first and added to the character sheet as I wrote the book.  With "No Rules Of Engagement", it was suggested and for good reason, that I go through and attach dates and times to things to help readers keep track of when and where the action or scene is taking place.  More for when, as the book deals with troops using a time machine to jump from their current place and position in time to attack an enemy in a different place in time.  The subsequent jumps back and forth get confusing, so later in the book certain chapters actually have two date, time, and location stamps, to let you know where the main story and group are at in relation and in line with the beginning of the story and where the army is at and when they are at, while attacking the enemy.
So I have three documents as reference materials for my second book, and I know for the sequel I will be using or adding to these because they have been extremely valuable tools in helping me keep things straight and organized so I don't come off looking like a bigger fool than I already am.
Real or not Real was where we started from and as a writer I have come to know some of my characters rather intimately through the many hours I have spent shaping and modeling the extraordinary lives and the adventures they live.  They are in essence bits and pieces of my experience and people I have met throughout my forty-five years of existence.  The good and the bad all rolled together and pieced into flawed, hopefully believable, and mostly characters I hope my readers will come love and love to hate as much as I do.
One of the truly beautiful people I know, a lady from my book club, gave me a Christmas present of a sweat shirt that says on the front of it, "Beware, you might end up in my next novel!"  So friends of writers beware, because you may be forever enshrined in literature by your writer friend if you're not careful.


J.L. Murphey said...

As a writer, you have to be an observer. You watch those around you, you notice little quirks, mannerisms, speech patterns more intensely than normal people.

All these little details end up in writing novels. While I may never use each and every detail in my character profiles they help me round my character into three dimensional characters. They are not necessarily real, but believable. Being believable is the key. Even a monster must have traits your reader can relate to.

There isn't a single author I know, thousands of them, who do not have their characters argue or talk with them. It's called doing your character homework. Take a look at my knowing your character page on my blog.

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