From our upcoming book –
Don’t Write Like We Talk
What we learned from agents & authors, publishers & poets
Some authors identify their characters by zodiac sign.
Some write extensive backgrounds, time lines, favorite pets, the parent’s story.
We write long biographies for every character who appears in the story.
All of this work can be excellent exercises, and valuable as you ﬂex your writing muscles; however, most writers will confess that their characters, the good characters, are not so easily controlled. What many of us have discovered: as soon as you think you know everything about your character and as soon as you sit down and think, well today my character will drive to the store ﬁght a dragon, and fall in love with the prince — they suddenly will not cooperate.
Like children, ﬁctional characters are strangely resistant to The Plan. You remember the week after your precious bundles of joy showed up? You created the ultimate calendar of success based on the 98 books on child rearing you read during the last nine months. You tracked to the hour developmental benchmarks. You wavered between placing the child in the advanced Yellow Tiger class or holding him back for another six months as a Blue Bear.
You delivered multiple children to multiple lessons: piano, trumpet, bongo. You spent months of your life driving to band, ballet, tumbling practices. You spent hours cheering from the side lines during little league, soccer, la cross. And what happened? At twenty, your precious bundle announced he wants to be a chicken farmer, an option markedly absent from the Goals List (subtitled Acceptable Careers Mom Thinks You Should Pursue).
Fictional characters will do much the same thing. Characters in your story or novel will just blurt out comments, pursue the villain down unmarked streets and race so quickly away from your expectations that you have no choice but to just hold on for the ride.
Take notes along the way.
As traits and details about your characters emerge, just keep track.
Create a running reference list chronicling his coffee preference, her favorite drink, what she hates, what he’s afraid of.
Remember to note her eye color or if she starts flipping back her hair when she’s stressed.
These notes will help with consistency as well as keeping your hero and heroine on track, not your track of course, but theirs.
The picture will emerge. Sketch it out as your character comes into focus.
Someone needs to farm those chickens.