Once again it’s time to insert a little gratuitous gorgeousness into my blog. It’s George of the Jungle, or as he is known to all, Brendan Fraser. Brendan (as he appears in this movie) lives inside of the armor which surrounds many of my hunky heroes. Hubba Hubba!
Seriously, when I am creating characters the first thing I do is write a physical description of them. As a dedicated reader, I ‘ve found nothing stinks up a book more than characters who fall out of character.
I’ve mentioned before that I also study the methods and ideas of those authors whose works inspire me, in order to understand what it is about their work that moves me as a reader. Some of the most successful authors are kind enough to offer those aspiring authors like me the opportunity to learn at their elbow, so to speak. Stephen King’s invaluable book, “On Writing”, and Strunk and White’s “Elements of Style” are essential tools for the dedicated author. Indeed, for me King’s “On Writing” has become the ‘writer’s bible’ along with Orson Scott Card’s classic “Character and Viewpoint” .
There are many places to visit online where you can find guidance and one of my most frequently visited sites is “Uncle Orson’s Writing Class”. It is free, and features 35 lessons on various elements of writing, written and posted by Orson Scott Card from 1998 through 2006. Each and every one of these little lessons has given me an insight which I wouldn’t have gained without a lot of grief on my part.
There are also clues and hints about character development in your real life interactions. Take the hypothetical family picnic, for example. In my family, everyone knows Grandma (me) is going to bring the fried chicken from the deli, and homemade brownies. Daughter Leah will bring the potato salad (yum!) and daughter Christy will bring a variety of amazing pasta salads. Daughter Meg will bring her wonderful coleslaw. Single son Dan will bring the sodas and chips. The various son-in-laws will barbecue ‘real meat’ and everyone will ignore the deli chicken Grandma brought.
Adult granddaughter Courtney won’t eat half of what is there, because she hates it, but she will defend to the death your right to bring that food. Brittany will eat some of everything, but her little daughter Lilly won’t eat anything but dessert. Brit will be laughing and playing with the little ones as if she were still a kid, making sure they are all having fun. The younger grandchildren will eat most of everything, but they will be running wild and behaving like kids at a picnic. Uncle Bob will be in a grumpy mood, insisting on playing the guitar loudly over everyone’s conversations, and Aunt Sherrie will be trying to make peace between me and my brother while steering the conversation in the right direction.
Through it all, my husband will be madly looking for the corkscrew.
I love these sorts of family events, and live for all the crazy memories they represent. Everyone I know and love behaves the way they always do, and if they deviate from their usual mode of behavior, we all wonder what is wrong with them.
Your characters in your stories are the same way.
Another thing we have to consider is the old maxim “write what you know”. Obviously, we can’t know everything about everything, but a little research is crucial when you write on any subject. As always, we have resources which go beyond Wikipedia – great source of info that it is. I use Encyclopedia Britannica Online, and Redwood’s Medical Edge to name two. Jordyn Redwood’s Medical Edge is a crucial resource for crime writers! But I use it, because I write about rough-and-tumble worlds and people who sometimes have terrible things happen to them and I need to know the physical morphology. After all, crime lurks in the darkest corners of the cities in every world, fantasy or not.
It’s work, writing a book. But if you are unwilling to research your characters and the events you write on, you won’t have a decent book to show for the effort you do put into it.
Know thy characters, and know thy subject is the rule for the day. Knowing what and whom you are writing about will help you to avoid the pitfalls of the lazy writer.