Friday, February 08, 2008

Quite the Character

I love a wonderful quote. Two good quotes? Twice as good!

Here's the first one:

"It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does."
-- William Falkner --

And here's the second:

"Characters take on life sometimes by luck, but I suspect it is when you can write most entirely out of yourself, inside the skin, heart, mind and soul of a person who is not yourself, that a character becomes in his own right another human being on the page."
-- Eudora Welty --

So do either of these quotes ring true for you and the way in which your characters come out of the closet of your mind? Are you a character planner, with charts and "interviews", file card systems and photos clipped from magazines? Or, are you one to simply set your characters loose, whether inside you head or with your fingers tinking along the keyboard?


Danita Cahill said...

I'll start. With my first book, I did the charts, note files, and photo clippings.

With the second I did none of that. I mulled the story, and the characters for a while and then set them free to do (mostly) what they would. That's the method that seems to work best for me -- learn about them as I go. Unfortunately, it also means major revisions later which is the better system? I don't know. You tell me!

Alice Sharpe said...

Fun blog!

I doubt there is a "better system", Danita. I think it depends on the writer, maybe the book. Sometimes a plot comes to me first.

Say I read about a cop shooting an unarmed man and the small town's reaction. Then I up the stakes. If the guy was from a bad family, then maybe everyone spent years expecting him to mess up and now he has. Okay, so he has a bad family, why? I make them the town drunks, so he has that to live down. What would he be like coming from a family like that? A control maniac, is one option, the child who held the family together and put on the family's public face. Lived a lie. So, if a guy who is determined to live an orderly life to make up for the chaos of his youth, then a terrible thing to happen to him would be to lose control, to appear to live "up" to a bad expectation. And then, for me, he begins to grow as a real man with real issues set against this defining moment. The circumstances of the plot helped create his character.

And then sometimes I begin with the character. Take a young woman stood up at the altar and give her the ultimate faith in herself and her intended to pursue him despite the fact it appears he left of his own free will. That takes strength, I think, to believe in your own lovability and to let pride go. The circumstances of that book came because of what I wanted her character to face.

Maybe none of that made sense. But building a character and a plot together is the best part of writing for me -- and the most challenging. I'm going to hit publish now and if this is gobbled into cyber space, it will be an indication from the gods that I got way too wordy! So, here goes....

Interesting blog, hope you are feeling well!

Lori Barber said...

Danita great post. I love both of the quotes you posted. I'm a mix of both philosophies. Sometimes I have to run to keep up with my characters. I love the concept of shedding your own self and your character emerges more clearly and walks with confidence through the door of their own right of passage. As the writer I carry the tail of their garment in a effort to keep up.

Like you I've tried character charts and didn't care for them. I don't collect pictures from magazines. I'd would have to subscribe to more magazines to do so. I just let my characters loose and jot down eye color etc. to keep those straight in my head.

I guess I could say I let my brain do the talking and my fingers do the walking. LOL

Danita Cahill said...

Too wordy, Alice? Never! And I enjoyed the samples you gave.

Wish you were going on the retreat with us. You'd be a hoot to have along.

I agree, though, there is no right or wrong way to write. Each book is its own boss. Each character has a mind of their own. Some writers cringe at statements like that, but I can totally relate.

Danita Cahill said...

"I let my brain do the talking and my fingers do the walking."
-- Lori Barber --

I love this quote too!

I also enjoyed the image of you carrying your characters' coat tails. Fun.

Sometimes my characters' coat tails get heavy, or almost too hot to handle. Ha!

Danita Cahill said...

On a personal aside:

Genene -- did you get your photos and CD?

Karen -- I commented late on your blog.

I can't wait for the retreat!!!!!!

Paty Jager said...

Characters- How I put them together
Characters - How they take over my mind.

I started out doing the charts and plotting the perfect story for them, but along the way I do some charting just to kind of get started then I let the characters come to life in my head. I let them mingle, converse with one another and then I start putting them on paper. I've foudn they are more real, more in my skin when I write than trying to explain them on paper before I start.

Great blog, Danita!

Paty Jager said...

Alice as always great words to ponder. And Lori, loved your thoughts!

Genene said...

Hi! Chiming in late.

I found both of these quotes very interesting, Danita.

I do start with character charts, but grow quickly impatient to start the story. (Yes, this from a person who is a plotting fiend! LOL!) I also like photos if I can find one that looks how I envision my character. My characters are usually a composite of several images. He has this guy's nose, but hair like someone else -- or totally unlike anyone else!

My characters become real by tossing them into the story and seeing how they react. It usually takes half the story before I feel like I "know" them. But there comes a point where I write something, stop and say so-and-so wouldn't do that or say that. That's when those characters have become real for me.

I also like to interview my characters. They usually reveal something totally surprising, but totally right for them.

Love the images of following along behind a character and trying to keep up with all they say and do. In one of my books, FEATHERS ON THE FLOOR, the hero (a bodyguard) didn't want to tell me anything until about the third revision of the story. But that was dead-on for his character. He didn't share much of himself. Few words but lots of action, so to speak.

[And, yes, Danita, I got the proof sheet and CD. Didn't notice your note on the CD until just now. :) Now I need to get the photo on the Web site swapped out. Many thanks!]

Danita Cahill said...

Many your welcomes, Genene. Sure wish our computers would talk again -- so much easier than trying to communicate by phone and by blog.