Tuesday, February 9, 2010

What's Your Story?

Mindy here, blogging to you from somewhere in the Caribbean. I'm cruising with my mother-in-law and sister-in-law this week, blessed to have a reprieve from reality. One thing I love to do no matter where I am, but especially when I travel, is people watch. Everyone has a story. I wonder what their story is. Sometimes I even make one up. After all, I am a writer.

Just like all these people aboard this ship, our characters have stories too. Not just the part we write about, but long before the story starts. They have a history, a background that is unique to them. None of us grew up the same. My past is different than Christy's. Hers differs from Missy's, Lindi's, Jen's, and Angie's. It's up to us writers to know that background so we can make our characters real.

How do we do that? Well, there are about as many ways to do that as there are stories. Some use a character sketch. Some like to discover the character as they write. Others interview their characters. There's no right or wrong here. What's important is knowing your characters and allowing the reader to know your characters.

Now it's your turn. How do you get to know your characters? What secrets do you have for making them leap off the page and linger in our minds long after we put the book down.

Happy Tuesday, everyone.


  1. Great thoughts, Mindy. I'm learning slowly to do most of my background work BEFORE I start my story. (Learned that one the hard way.) I make bulleted lists of the events in their life in chronological order and a timeline of what's happened to them up until the point in their life the story begins. So far that has worked for me, but it doesn't mean that I won't find something better eventually.

  2. Hi Mindy:

    In real life we never really get to ‘know’ another person. Look at all the deceived wives of famous people in the news. In this sense, how far should we ‘know’ our characters?

    Think about it. We get to know people by dealing with them over a period of time. Maureen Child wrote that writing the first part of a book was the hardest part. About a third way into the book, once she has learned who her characters are, the rest of the book is easier to write. I think this experience mirrors real life and leads to more natural and realistic writing.

    I believe there should be a balance. We should ‘know’ enough about our characters to be consistent throughout the book but not so much as to prevent a natural unveiling of the charter’s hidden nature.


  3. Diana, that sounds like an excellent plan. Kind of light hitting the high points.

  4. Vince, so glad you stopped by. And with some very good and accurate points. People can always have secrets. In books, they usually do. We just need to create that 3-D character by exploring what made them the person they are in the book.

  5. Mindy,
    I think I need to delve deeper into characters and make more charts or whatever. I've written my character's backstory before, but sometimes, I need to just start the story and write, then edit down later.

    Just call me a crock pot because I like to stew on my characters.

    I've got a story brewing now about an aimless, mentally handicapped drifter in a small town who is accused of a horrible crime. Problem is I don't like writing suspense and don't plan to. But this character won't leave me alone. And the story is building and building. I've got to finish other projects before I can dive into this one.

  6. I like to write a first person journal in each character's POV to get to know what's happened in the past. That way I know how'll they'll act when the story opens. I usually start the journal when they're a child or teenager (whenever something important has happened that's form who they are).

    Vince, you made a good point. No matter how much we might plan, that character is going to grow and change as the story moves along.

    Mindy, have a wonderful time!! I'm so envious!!

  7. I need to do more upfront work, but I am usually so excited to get started I just dive right in. And like Vince says, they grow, they change, and as I write I get to know them. But that requires a lot of rewriting on the first chapters.
    Ah, the name of the game.

  8. I struggle with characters. I see the character in my head, because I'm visual, and the name seems to pop in with them. Then I visualize them moving around in the real world. so for me, I think it's a lot of mental work but I'd like to try the first person bio/journal idea.