To me, one of the best things about writin’ is the characters. I think more than anything else, I rate a book or movie on how well defined, consistent, and realistic the characters are. (The other top rule bein’ that the plot must be 100% logical with no contrivances nor coincidences, but more on that in a later post.)
When I write somethin’ of my own, I have a few major rules (of which sometimes I break, as you saw from my previous post, much to my misfortune.) One of them there sacrosanct rules is that I have to know my characters as well as I know myself before I can use them in any story. I’m beyond obsessive about that, actually, since the characters in my fiction are the parts of the story I enjoy the most. I have to know how they talk, what sort of clothes they wear (right down to the brands and where they shop for those clothes), their hair styles, their daily routines, their family life, how they get along with their parent(s) and siblings, their life stories (obviously), their job, their co-workers, what sort of vehicle they own, what their house or apartment looks like and how well (or not) it’s kept, their pets if any, what they like to eat, what music they listen to, their social and political views and opinions, who they’d vote for and why, what religion they believe in if any (and why, or why not), what ticks them off, what scares them, what makes them happy, and what they want most out of life. Actually, there are a lot more things that I have to know about a character than just this small sample, and I literally spend months per each single character defining these things and many more, before I even start writing them into a story. I have folders (well, nowadays megabytes) of information on them, drawings of them, and so on.
That’s why I’m tickled pink today, because as a result of this obsessive character development that I do before writin’ begins, when it comes time to write their dialogue, the characters pretty much write their own words for me, through my hands as I type. I’ve picked up on their speech habits, favorite expressions and figures of speech, how they construct their sentences, etc. More importantly, though, I know them enough to know what they’d want to say in any given situation, and sometimes that’s not what I expect or even want them to say. A third rule is that I let my characters respond as they “want” in the scene, since I know them (hopefully) so well by the time I put them into a story. So sometimes, a character will say or even do something that I didn’t see coming, maybe even something that changes the plot. And that happened yesterday and this morning as I wrote. The love interest in the ill-fated love-triangle has without a doubt the strongest personality of any of the characters, and it was as much a delight as it was a surprise to see her come into fruition in her first scene. (Oh, that’s another rule of mine – a love interest, male or female, can never be in the story just so that the main character has somebody to save, love, etc. If the love interest isn’t going to be a very well-defined character, make the hero/heroine single and just get on with the story without an extraneous character as “window dressing”.)
Now I have to change the story just a bit, because one of my characters changed it for me. What can be more fun in writing than to actually watch a story that you’ve set in motion unfold in ways that you didn’t expect, taking the story to new and even better places?