When writing a book, one of the first things we have to do is decide on the characters who will people our books, and the roles they will play. The interactions between them, their idiosyncrasies, dialogue and the amount of time we give them, all factor in.
I don’t know about other writers, but I start with the two lead protagonists, then add people in around them as I go. Some I can identify right away, others kind of sneak in and take over larger parts than I thought. Then there are the characters I thought I’d use more of, but for one reason or another, end up taking more of a back seat than I’d first thought.
For each character, I have to see them in my own head – details of what they look like, their personalities, and for major characters, I also need to have an idea of their history (who, what, when, where). I learned early on to keep a separate profile page to refer and add to as I go, otherwise I’ll forget small details. I’ve discovered this is even more important with serial books. You wouldn’t believe what I can forget between Book 1 and Book 2!
Because I’m currently hot and heavy into the final edits of In The Spirit Of Love, I can’t help but address this issue. As per usual, while editing, (or writing), I think about what’s currently happening in my own life, or my life experiences to draw inspiration from. Well, as my husband and I waved goodbye to my English cousins at the airport the other day, I couldn’t help but reflect on how these wonderful people just walked into my life and took up a place in my heart. Two weeks before, I’d only ever met their mother (whom I’ve loved and respected for years), now I knew my cousin, his wife and their two young boys. With only two weeks, I don’t know them well, but I have a much clearer idea of who they are. I can hear their Lancashire accents clearly in my head, and I know a bit about each of them – yes the boys too – to understand who they are and some of their likes, dislikes and small quirks. I found out my cousin reminds me of his father, whom I really liked, he is a lawyer and circuit Judge in his native country, has a quiet manner, a quick wit, and ready smile. He also feels deeply for his family, and took to my father immediately. He’s also co-written a play that was produced and won an award, and is in the process of co-writing a second one. His wife is a lovely woman who works in the auto industry, has a wonderful laugh, is smart and witty, and works hard to keep her family looked after and all the minutiae of life in order.
Having met them, they are now real to me in ways they weren’t before. They now have a role to play in my life they didn’t before. I want to keep up the relationships we’ve started to form, and this means working at it. Emailing, Skyping, and hopefully, visiting my father’s homeland of England sometime in the next year or two. I’ve learned a lot in my years on this earth so far, and one of them is that people enter your life for a reason. It’s up to us to decide what role they will play and what interaction we allow them. Had I not liked my cousin and his family, I guarantee I wouldn’t attempt to keep in contact. I’d happily wave them goodbye and leave it at that. We do that with everyone in our lives, to some degree or other. Relationships take work, they take an investment of the heart, and they require effort of time. We add new people to our lives all the time. Whether family members we’ve never met before, or work colleagues, or the new cashier at the grocery store we frequent.
My point is, as in life, we need to be flexible enough in our writing to allow characters to enter the plot, show us who they are and what role they’ll play in our story. Sometimes the most amazing characters of all come out of left field. This writing gig is an evolving thing; we don’t always have a clear picture of who our characters and sub-characters are, or how they’ll interact with our protagonists (our alter egos). But if we allow enough ebb and flow, it’ll become clear and the story much stronger for their addition.
Then we edit, edit, edit, till we have crafted the best story, dialogue and characters we can. We can do some of this in life as well. We can choose to surround ourselves with people who are positive, and supportive of us, and “edit” the people who aren’t. This doesn’t mean we can eliminate the negative people in our lives completely, but we can definitely choose what role they play in our lives and how we allow ourselves to interact with them. In doing so, we craft a better story for our lives and enrich the experiences we share. By the same token, we can choose what part we play in other’s lives as well.
We can either be positive or negative influences. I prefer to try to be a positive one to those people whose lives touch mine.