Some of you who pop in an out of my Facebook page know that I’ve been working non-stop on character sketches for the first book of my new series, which will debut in August of 2012. Not all authors bother with this. Some are content to allow the character to reveal him or herself as the book develops. They like surprises, an extended timeline of revelations, to keep them interested.
While I understand this and occasionally follow that path, this book had to be different. This story and the ones that follow are character-driven. The character’s growth and life experiences are of primary importance, and because they are, I have to understand each one of them fully. Since characters who will appear in other books are introduced in this first one, I decided I needed to know who each of them were right now, where they come from, the pitfalls and triumphs they’ve faced. In other words, all the details that have made them the people they are.
Do you remember reading the autobiographies of the four neighbors of Happiness Key? Tracy, Wanda, Janya and Alice were all featured here on my blog. What you read–and still can if you missed it–was a portion of what I’d asked them to write about themselves as a bonus prelude, before Happiness Key was published. That was the first time I approached characterization quite that way. It was fun, and as it turned out, sharing it with you was fun, as well.
This time to begin I launched into the stories of my supporting characters. Once again I was glad they opened up to me. I discovered potential story lines for subsequent books, learned how they would interact with the major character of my first book, Charlotte Hale, and found a few welcome surprises, as well as more than a few challenges.
After I had done three of these characters, I moved on to Charlotte herself. Charlotte’s basic story had been laid out in the synopsis that I wrote for my publisher. So for some time I’d been thinking about why she was the woman she was, and how to make her sympathetic to my readers. Because Charlotte, like all her real-life counterparts, has made a lot of mistakes in her life. And readers? Well, most of us want to read about people we can root for. My job is to be sure that early enough in the book, well before a reader considers tossing her copy against the wall, she’ll be hopeful that Charlotte’s worth the trouble. In fact she’ll be so hopeful, she’ll stay up all night, just to see if she’s right.
I’m now 75 pages into Charlotte’s autobiography. Yes, 75 pages. Do I understand her better? Well, yes. Do I understand her completely? Well, no. Do I understand her well enough to let the rest of her story stab me in the gut, explode like heat lightning on my pages, wake me up in the middle of the night with a new revelation? I hope so. Charlotte is now with me as I dress in the morning, and as I turn off the light at bedtime. My friend Casey Daniels says I’ve written enough to sell her autobiography as a novella on Amazon. That means it’s pretty clear I need to stop.
So what’s next? Today? Charlotte’s family. I wonder what they’ll have to say about her? When I’m finished, will I still be haunted by the things I don’t know? Or will I be so engaged that I can’t wait to write page one of the novel.