Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Blog Chain: Meeting Your Characters!

It's blog chain time again!

This round's topic is brought to you by the character-driven Cole who asked:

How do you get inside your character's world?

Apparently, Cole actually stalks her characters, google maps their haunts, etc, to get to know them. This got me thinking about my own process.

How the hell did I first meet my characters?
How did I know what they looked like? How they thought? What their strengths and weaknesses are?

To tell you the truth, I'm not really sure. They just sort of showed up in my brain like strangers knocking on my door. For example, in my head I have a picture of Astrid and a picture of Torin from LEGACY OF THE EMPRESS in mind from the start. I don't know where they came from, but I knew that Astrid was an 18 year old girl with long dark hair and deep blue eyes, and Torin was a 19 year old boy with dark hair that stuck up in weird angles.

This is seriously the first I knew about them, and I had to figure it out from there. It really was like I saw strangers in a cafe, thought they were interesting, and then tried to get to know them from afar. The first thing I do is try to google for images that are close to what I have in my brain. I feel like if I can give my characters a physical form (at least in my own head), I'll be able to hold onto them long enough to figure out what makes them tick.

So, I googled.

For Astrid, I came up with this picture of Kate Beckinsale, only in my head she's younger, and has longer hair. For Torin, a picture of Jake Gyllenhaal was the closest I could find. From there, I spent time with them in my head and felt out how they talked, if they were quiet or loud or shy or obnoxious, and then checked in with them at random intervals throughout the story to see how they would react to different situations. For each scene I thought "what is driving them?" and then basic questions like "what would Torin do? How would he feel here?"

Being a woman writing a male character, I also had times where I checked in with my Resident Man Expert: AKA, my husband. For example, I had Torin crying over something and it didn't feel right. I asked my Resident Man Expert what a guy would do in that situation. His answer? Punch something! That explains why crying doesn't seem like a good choice here :)! Torin wouldn't cry, dangit, he'd punch the rock until his knuckles bled! (needless to say, my R.M.E. was extremely helpful. I highly recommend getting one if you don't have one already, or a Resident Lady Expert if you are a dude.)

I admit it's kind of weird that my characters show up in my head before I get to know them. I'm not sure how this works. For my new WIP, HOLLOW LAND, I knew that the main character had short, dyed fire engine red hair... but when I tried to name her she basically told me her name was Davida, and the name I'd chosen for her was nickname. Then she told me she's Jewish. Jewish? Great! Now, I'm going to have to research!

Sometimes these characters turn out to be more high maintenance than I bargained for, but who am I to complain? They are who they are.

Okay, now I'm worried that this post makes me sound insane.

How the heck do YOU come up with your characters? How do you get into their heads? Do you meet them first like I do and then let them unfold, or do you have a system I need to know about?

Don't miss the fabulous Kate tomorrow!

21 comments:

Christine Fonseca said...

No worries Becca - you are no crazier than the rest of us. Just wait until I get my hands on this topic!!! Mwahahahaha

Ann Elle Altman said...

I actually do a similar thing. I use google images and find my character that way. Great post.

ann

Pen said...

Great post! I know you think you sound nuts but really your process is very similar to mine.

This is a great blog topic!

Nisa said...

wow, interesting question and very cool thoughts. I might get sucked into google today...

Kat Harris said...

You're not insane. You're a writer in the company of other writers.

We understand. (At least I do.)

:-)

Scott said...

No system at all. They just sort of appear in my head and I go forth blindly. I did a post recently about 'what I don't know about my characters' because they're always surprising me, especially in the rough draft phase. Also, I haven't ever done the picture searching thing. I might have to try that some time. : )

Great post.

S

Ann said...

Sounds like a perfectly normal way to go about this process to me.

Eric said...

Interesting way to deal with your characters. Gotta love having to research when you weren't planning on it. Yuck.

Mandy said...

:D Great post, and you're definitely NOT insane! With their first thought, or words, my characters physical appearance sort-of pops in my head as well. I have a clear picture that always seems to coincide with their personalities. Having rich imaginations is what makes us writers. ;)

Cole Gibsen said...

Um, I was on the Journey's website the other day and it was freaky - they have a pair of zebra print shoes exactly like the pair I envision my MC wearing in KATANA. So, of course I bought them. Now...who's crazy? :)

Tere Kirkland said...

OMG, Torin is totally Jake! LOL!

I'm going to have to do this sometime with my novels. Can't miss out on all the fun!

Elana Johnson said...

I love this post! For me, I truly don't know my characters, their motivations, nothing, until the rewrite. Then I can usually figure out who they are and what's going on.

And then I rewrite. And rewrite. And rewrite some more.

And then I hate them all and want to kill them off. Ha ha!

lbdiamond said...

This is sooooo interesting! In my first novel, I totally had "Google people" picked out. Helped me to picture their movements, body language, and how they'd speak. After that, the characters presented themselves. In fact, in my most recent WIP, I wanted the protag's love interest to have dark hair, but he kept saying, "Lady, I'm blonde. Get over it." Maybe it's because he's 17 and just would NOT listen to me. LOL!

BTW, I've nominated you for a blog award. I've posted about it today on my blog, http://lbdiamond.wordpress.com/

Sandra said...

Even when I think I know my characters, they still show me new facets of themselves. No wonder I have to rewrite so much!

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

Hee hee, love your "resident man expert" - I have one too and they do come in handy!

JennyMac said...

This is great Rebecca. Thanks for sharing. I picture my characters in my mind and one of them looks just like Mark Ruffalo. I need to continue working on them but that image is a great start.

Sharla said...

Mine show up in my car. I swear they do. Most of my scenes and plotting and anything writing related happen while I'm driving. And new characters show up and ride around with me before I ever know them. I know what they look like, how they talk, what their personalities are like. Then they decide on a name (not me) and I start working with them.

Shaun Hutchinson said...

I think all writers are insane...insanely AWESOME. I get what you're saying though and characters just showing up. It's creepy when they show up with characteristics you know nothing about. It's like, "You're an Amish microbiologist with an unhealthy interest in ballroom dancing? Say what?"

Sarah Bromley said...

Love this post! I get pictures of characters as well.

B.J. Anderson said...

My process is very similar! I like to do searches on the internet. And that's a cool pic of Kate Beckinsale. Great post! And no, you don't sound insane, lol.

Kat Harris said...

Jewish? Oh man, if my characters ever dropped something like that on me I'd flip. It would be such an incredible challenge and opportunity to learn a culture/religion that is completely foreign to me. I'd love it. (But I'd be so nervous about how to present it in an appropriate manner.)

BTW, I love the name Torin.