I’ve been getting to know some new folks the last few months.
In many ways, it’s like forming any new relationship. I have my first impression, and think these might be some pretty cool friends. I get to know them a little better, and see some of my initial opinions might have been off. Maybe I’m not even sure I like these people after all.
As I go deeper, start listening to them and discover who they really are, I find that, though I was mistaken in my first impression, and they aren’t quite like I thought at first…they’re better. They have depth and histories, faults and virtues, struggles and heartaches, passions that drive them. I start to feel privileged to know them and look forward to spending more time together.
Much like getting to know anyone, right? Except…these people are pretend.
Yep, I’m in the early stages of starting a new novel. And my main characters—a young abolitionist woman from the East and an Army Captain taking up a new station at Fort Tejon, CA—have been a bit elusive to get to know. The heroine in particular.
I’m not sure why, but despite my character charts and such, she’s been a bit slow to reveal herself, who she really is, what drives her. Finally, though, in recent weeks she’s started opening up. One night on a writers retreat last month, she suddenly started talking…not to me exactly, just talking. So I tried to write it down. And discovered she was quite different than I’d originally thought. And she’s continued to reveal bits and pieces since.
One of these days I need to actually sit down and have a talk with her. When I interview my characters—always written in longhand—I discover more about who they are, what they care about, and what pushes their buttons. Nearly always I find something that surprises me. I’ll never forget the verbal wrestling I had with one of my Navajo heroes to get him to even talk to me—understandable, I guess, with his past experience with white people. But finally we got past it.
Do I sound crazy yet? 🙂
Honestly, if it weren’t for so many other writers with the exact same experience, I might worry about these characters that run around jabbering in my mind. But I don’t think we all need to be checked into an asylum.
We must just be a unique breed God created when He made novelists.
Even Jesus made up characters. He nearly always began His parables by introducing a certain protagonist:
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho…”
“A moneylender had two debtors…”
“A man had two sons…”
But most of all, I think the characters He creates are us. And what diversity, splendor, and creativity He lavishes on the beautifully unique human beings He creates to cast His Story on the world’s stage.
I hope my characters grow to reflect that real-ness and creativity at least a little bit.
What book have you read lately where the characters sprang to life on the page? I’ve been reading Between Us Girls by Sally John, and I’d like to have her characters over for dinner…and almost think I could! Or what is a favorite fictional character you’ve loved in the past? Please comment and share!
I’m glad your heroine is beginning to talk. She has such much to tell and I can hardly wait to hear her. I can’t think of any particular book, but I love reading stories where I can say, “Yep, I know these people!” I know your novel will be one of those for me!
Aw, thanks, Sandra! Your stories are definitely in that category for me. 🙂
I’m reading the latest Shopaholic book. Becky Brandon née Bloomwood is one of my favorite characters, though I doubt we’d be friends in real life. Her love of shopping and knowledge of designer brands wouldn’t meld well with my love of books and knowledge of publishers 🙂 But I can relate to her runaway passion and empathize with how things always explode beyond her control.
And I love when my own characters come to life on the page. I love when you start a scene and discover something you didn’t know. I love bringing these pretend people from incompleteness to completely whole. I love what I learn about myself on that journey.
Can’t wait to meet your latest heroine!
And I love what you said, Sarah. You bring out a point I hadn’t even fully formulated, though it’s there–that the characters we get to know through seeing them come to life in our own stories become just as real as those we meet in other books. I guess that seems obvious, just struck me in a new way through your words!
I love your “pretend people,” by the way. 🙂
I’m right there with you, Kiersti. And really looking forward to meeting your new characters “in person.”
Favorite characters? I’ve got several – Alice in Lynn Austin’s “Wonderland Creek,” Roz in Ann Tatlock’s “Promises to Keep,” and Martha in Diana Wallis Taylor’s “Martha,” in which I got to know the much-maligned woman in the Bible much better and actually related to her.
Oh, I really liked Alice in Wonderland Creek too! And Martha sounds fascinating…I should check that book out. I’ve related to her before as well. 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing!
Great information, Kiersti, about your process. I love interviewing my characters and asking them to stretch the limits for what they want and what they will or won’t do to reach their destinies. Glad to see we’re kindred spirits re: technique! Your new project featuring the abolitionist is intriguing.
Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing, Donna! I love your idea of asking your characters to “stretch the limits for what they want and what they will or won’t do to reach their destinies.” What a great idea. 🙂 Blessings!