Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Whoooo Are You? Who-who? Who-who?

So, who are these people you're spending so much time with? Instead of doing the dishes, you're following this raven-haired vixen down dark alleyways. You're thinking about your square-jawed anti-hero while watching your kid play soccer. They hold your attention longer than Glee and Walking Dead combined (okay, maybe not Walking Dead cuz zombies are AWESOME).

Who are these people?

They are the characters in your story, Opus Magnus in the City: Hellzapoppin'.

You know them but how do you get them out of your head and onto the page? How do they sound when they talk? What do they believe? I'm not talking about those traits you're asked to consider when filling out those templates. You know those templates -- eye color, education, the type of coffee they drink. Yeah, that stuff's important but don't you want to know more?

What would your character do if someone cut her off on the freeway? Curse? Shrug? Follow dangerously close to the offender's bumper? Why would she do that? Write a scene about it.

What would your villain do if he came upon an abandoned toddler in a car? Walk on by? Call the police? Why? Write a scene about it.

Un mas.

What would your character do if they're in the middle of Nowhere, California with the girl he just broke up with, flat tire, full bladder and dying cell-phones? Write a scene about it.

Go on. Do it. I'll wait... It's okay, no one's gonna read it. Have at it...


Didn't that feel good? Wasn't that fun? Yeah, it was.

Most likely, these scenes won't find their way into your novel. The point is, Friend, you know more about your characters in an environment. You're hearing them talk and reason, seeing them act in application and not in theory.

Many times, I discover who my characters really are by the end of the first draft. Again, it's application versus theory. Before finishing that draft, I thought Nicole Baxter from The View from Here was a chaste, honorable woman and she was -- until faced with a situation that forced her to make a choice that wasn't so honorable. But this discovery only happened because I had spent time with her, in her world.

So, damn the charts! Put your people in random situations. Listen to them. Raise the stakes. And then... write. Your dialogue will be truer. Their reactions more honest.

You owe it to yourself and to your characters. And eventually, readers of your great work, Opus Magnus in the City: Hellzapoppin'.

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