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Friday, June 22, 2012
12:00 AM | Posted by Terri Osburn | | Edit Post
While Chance is off playing in Denver at RomCon, I'm steeling....err.....liberating her day.
You have this great story idea floating through your mind. Nagging you during the day job. Poking at you while you're falling asleep. You've pondered on the plot, let it boil and brew and now it's time to put words on the page.
You open the document. You come up with a really good opening line. Now you need your characters to engage. To come alive. But for some reason, they're standing around indignantly, arms crossed, looking bored and uncooperative. What gives?
You're rushing them. Yeah yeah, you've been listening to them for weeks. Patiently taking in their complaints about each other. They live IN your head, have been dancing and stomping all through it, so you figure you know them.
Not that easy. You can't expect them to trust you with their deepest, darkest secrets already. Just because they live in your head doesn't mean they trust you to tell their story. Nor does it mean you know anything about them.
To a non-writer, this would sound like insanity. But writers are shaking their heads thinking, "That's what their problem is."
Think of getting to know your characters like dating. Some story god of the Universe has decided you're a match. Writer meet characters. Characters meet writer. Now you have to go through the dating dance. *pauses while Hellie runs from the ship* Don't mind her.
The point is, you can't expect your heroine to get intimate before you've bought her a drink. Don't expect your hero to pour out his heart after a mere handshake. Sit down with them. Have a chat. Casual. No stress. A get-to-know you session.
Let them know you're here to tell their story, not your own. That you'll be true to them and you'll make sure they have a happy ending. Ask them lots of questions. Characters love questions. Even that strong and silent alpha hero. Don't let him fool you. He'll play hard to get, but keep those questions coming.
Get the basic history. Where were you born? Who were your parents. Where did you go to school? What kind of a kid were you? Then ease into something a little deeper. Anything traumatic happen in your childhood?
Pretend you're James Lipton filming Inside The Characters' Heads. Which means you have cards. You have background info and now you must use what you know to learn more. What did he want to be when he grew up? Did she see herself as an adventurer or a stay at home mom. (Which can also be quite an adventure, just ask one.)
Is he in line for a title? Does he want that title? Is she a debutante up for the highest bidder? Does she see marriage as a business deal or is she determined to marry for love? Does he like cats? Does she like dogs? Birds? Lizards? Brussel sprouts?
Ask any and every question you can think of and take notes. You may think that being laughed at in the girls' locker room for wearing granny panties when she was 15 won't add anything to your story. Wrong. That's a tell. A moment that explains why your tomboy, gear head boat mechanic has an extensive collection of lacy underwear.
Dig deep. Engage your characters before expecting them to engage on the page. You'll be surprised how much you learn and how much better your story will be for those awkward, painful days of wooing.
How do you get to know your characters? Do you take notes? Detail their history? Or do you think knowing she had a purple tricycle and took tap dancing lessons for three years is a waste of time?