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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Cast

The people in your head want to be heard.

I don't use index cards in character development. Although that would help to remember the color of  eyes or some facial tick, truth is I'm too lazy. I've tried cards, started them and stacked them and did nothing with them. Nowadays, I note the bare essentials on a Word doc and occasionally reference it.

For the most part, I develop characters on legal pad. Big surprise. Before typing the first word, I'll spend two or three weeks doodling characters, flesh out their motivations, their reason to exist. Their story.

Names. Physical attributes. I'll start with those sorts of things. Frequently, I'll change someone's name after the entire rough draft is finished. I work more on why they're in my head than what they look like. In essence, what's their dilemma? What's their conflict? And how are they going to resolve it?

The resolve part, I hope, evolves into the twist--a resolution the reader doesn't see coming. I may or may not come up with that during character development. I primarily focus on two characters: the antagonist you can't quite hate as much as you should and the flawed protagonist.

I put the antagonist first because a really good bad guy is more interesting than the hero. This can be part of the twist, transforming a character from someone you hate into someone you're not sure you hate, or want to hate more than you do. You might even like him or her and don't want to admit it. It's conflicting, but in a good way. Of course, the opposite can be done--from liking a good guy to hating him--but I don't enjoy that direction as much.

I learned a lot from the Joker. Heath Ledger captured the perfect antagonist. He was merciless and deplorable. I shouldn't be rooting for this character, but in the end I just didn't hate him. That's the antagonist I'm looking for. In Socket Greeny, Pike became my Joker. In the end, the motivations for his reprehensible behavior were flipped on its head. In the end, he actually ends up more heroic than antagonistic.

In Halfskin, Marcus Anderson is awful, but he didn't even make the legal pad in the beginning. By the end of the third book, he's a central figure. In Flury, Grandmother is the staunch authoritarian rule maker and child breaker. By the end, you understand her heartache.

As protagonists go, they have to be human. Clark Kent is too good. We can't relate. Even his humble superman persona is off-putting. Batman we can get behind because he's flawed. A wounded hero. His morals won't let allow him to kill someone no matter what atrocities they've committed, but he'll beat them within an inch of their life. And Spawn, well, he's the ultimate bad good guy.

So my character sketches start on a legal pad. Each character has their own page. Name, attributes and what's their problem. On the following pages, I sketch out scenes, how they might interact, where they might be going, what's their ultimate destination.

Dorothy was trying to get back to Kansas, the tin man needed a heart, the lion needed courage... that sort of thing. I'll put stars next to scenes that seem important, or something I really want to get to. It doesn't always work that way, but sometimes I can see the final destination before I start writing.

In Flury, I wanted Oliver to be in a fatal situation and the snowman had to sacrifice himself to save him. By the time I wrote the scene, Oliver was in a diabetic coma and Flury wasn't allowed to leave the property without melting. Cue sadness. I ended up writing that scene three times before I got it right.

In Bricks, I knew the players would be imprisoned on a settlement and would clash with Marcus Anderson. They would escape in pursuit of the truth behind biomites. But after that I didn't know. In fact, I flew through the first two acts and was still stumped when I arrived at the third act some 60,000 words later. So back to the legal pad.

Here's the secret to my legal pad. I almost never look back at it. It's really just a crutch. It's what I use to slow down the story. It's all about letting the characters tell their story, letting the story unfold. I'm just writing it down. Now I want to make it interesting.

I want that twist.

To be continued...

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