Image designed and provided by Estelle from Rather Be Reading
I have invited my very dear friend J.H. Trumble, author of the critically acclaimed DON’T LET ME GO and the forthcoming WHERE YOU ARE to the blog today. One of my favorite things about J.H.’s excellent writing and storytelling is her ability to craft hugely dynamic characters. I hope you enjoy the guest post below.
I’ve wracked my brain trying to figure out how Trumble makes her characters so human — flaws and all — and I come up short every single time. Because it just happens. It is so natural how these characters live and breathe on the page . . . ~Estelle HSo apparently I have some talent for writing three-dimensional, fully-realized characters. Let’s assume for a moment that my fans and reviewers are correct, and that I have something useful to share with you today. In fact, let’s make this one of those how-to posts—Five Steps to Creating Memorable Characters by J.H. Trumble. Disclaimer: This is my process. It works for me.
1. Decide what it is you want to write about first.
For me it’s always a question or a series of questions I want to explore. Don’t Let Me Go was inspired by a real event in my community that ended in the suicide of a promising young man. Question: What if that young man had had a hero? Where You Are is about a student/teacher relationship. Question: Could there be a legitimate sexual relationship between a teacher and student, and how would that happen? Just Between Us is about a young man who contracts HIV. Question: How would such a devastating diagnosis affect a young man’s various relationships and his self image?
2. Choose a character to wrestle with the issue.
My main characters always begin with real people. It’s just hard for me to create characters out of thin air. So I choose people I find interesting, and we’re off. Of course, over time, the characters become unique individuals, completely separate from their initial inspiration.
3. Let your characters live and interact with their environment and others in their world.
This is where my characters become real. As I work my way through a story I have to ask myself repeatedly, what else is going on in my character’s life? Who else is in his world? When he gets home from school, who’s there? When he picks up his phone, who does he text? Does he have a job? Does he like his job?
So I finish one scene and I look around. What next? It’s kind of like playing chess. I look at the board, and decided what the next move will be. And it can’t be random. It has to make sense based on the placement of all the other pieces. Sometimes I can kind of see my way to the end, and sometimes I can only see one or two scenes ahead. But I do think it’s that scene-by-scene progression that allows my characters to develop.
4. Constantly ask yourself why. Why did my character do that? Why did he say that? What’s he hiding? What’s he really after?
This is my favorite part, because this is where all the surprises happen. I like writing best when I’m writing fast, when I’m allowing my characters to interact and do or say whatever. It’s very intuitive. And often times, they surprise me. And that’s when I have to sit back and say, huh. There’s something more going on here and I’m going to find out what that is.
5. Ask yourself, what the hell just happened here?
When I finish a manuscript, there’s always this long stretch of time when I try to make sense of it all. I look at the main characters and try to understand what’s been motivating them, what they’ve been so afraid of, where their thinking has been wrong or right. I know a lot of writers do this before they start a novel, but for me, this happens at the end. Once I think I really understand them, I can go back and edit to clarify what I now know about the characters. I look at every action, every line they speak and ask myself, would Nate say or do this? Would Andrew really respond this way?
Despite all my care in getting my characters right, my editor still sometimes calls foul. And then two things happen. First, I get completely indignant. “What? You’re batshit crazy. That’s totally Nate (Adam, Robert Andrew)!” And then, after I’ve had some time to chill and really consider his comment, I rewrite the section.
I will say this, there is no one way to write great characters. Process is as individual as fingerprints. Whatever gets you there, you know!
J.H. Trumble is a Texas native and graduate of Sam Houston State University. You may follow the author on Twitter @JHTrumble, on Facebook, or at http://jhtrumble.com.
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