Years ago I wrote for the fun of writing. I worked third shift and left chapters hanging around the plant. Anonymously. It brought an expected lesson. People started leaving notes regarding the characters, did they work, have spouses, or red hair? There were also comments on conflicting information in different chapters. I wanted people to buy into my story, but errors were keeping it two-dimensional. I worked harder at keeping on track with the nuances of character’s personalities and the landscape of my story.
Eventually I wanted to know the character like a friend, or if it’s the bad guy, well enough to protect myself from them. Consider Carol, a 5’4” case of walking nerves with crinkly hair and green eyes. She likes her coffee black, gin, and sequins in her glass frames. She doesn’t date blond guys because of a jerk when she was sixteen. Good start. What else? Is she from the south, work as a defense lawyer, have a gutter mouth?
While I’m still toying with the premise of a piece, I’m listing characters. I get specific and might type out a 1000 word descriptive to keep on file. I need to know these people enough so I’m not guessing how they’ll react. They still develop quirks along the way (and I keep track of those), but I can put the character somewhere confidently until I’m ready for them to move. Their makeup depends on their roots, education, how they interpret money, sex, danger. Even if I don’t know what they are going to say next, I know where their attitude comes from. This helps keep the voice of the piece the same throughout.
You’re walking through the bus terminal, you see the perfect descriptive for your piece. But you don’t know that person and can’t follow them around. Let yourself picture him in a scene, and with a little patience that personality will develop. It may lead to plucking a character from this book and dumping them into another, changing sex, or even evicting them away. If someone enters the field who has the potential of becoming a major player later, set them up. Character’s can go from being a friend to a bad guy on the strength of the bio. Get started before Chapter 1. It might change as you go, but when you’re ripping through a scene, you won’t have to stop and finesse someone.
Words are like babies, they are yours. Sometimes it’s hard to edit out or make changes. When you’re almost done you don’t want to go back and make all the changes because Paul needs to be fifty-four instead of twenty-four. Or worse then that, kill him off.
For me, it’s scary to get invested in someone who exists on paper via a #2 pencil, but I want to know these people closely. Surprise is good, being left hanging isn’t. I want readers to experience someone I have grown in words, and to welcome them with open arms. Or maybe run away as fast as they can.