September 29th, 2006
How does she do that?

I think this subject (How does she do that?) is going to become my regular Friday topic, unless something cool and groovy happens that I just have to share. 🙂

Gabriele suggested in the comments to yesterday’s post that I talk about characterization (ie how to flesh out characters) and tying together subplots. I’m going to break these two things up because I approach each one differently.

I decided to tackle my favorite of the two first, characterization. For those who don’t visit my blog regularly, I tend to write stories based around characters. I build the plot afterwards. Most ideas I get start with a character popping into my mind and saying a line of dialogue. For example, when I was working on “Private Investigations” for the Wicked Women on Top anthology, I kept hearing a man’s voice in my head. He was whispering like he was hiding from someone, but I couldn’t figure out why he kept telling the woman with him to take off her clothes. *ggg* It didn’t make sense at the time. The line kept playing repeatedly in my head until more of the situation came to me. Once I realized where (in a closet) these two characters were and what they were doing (hiding because they aren’t supposed to be in the room), it made more sense. I began to build the story from there.

Some people like interviewing their characters and that process works well for them. I’ve tried doing that, but haven’t had much success. What DID help me was asking the characters to tell me their story. Basically, I pretended that I was cop and I asked them to tell me what happened. The characters are never in the same ‘room’ with each other, so they can speak freely without arguing. (wg)

The information I get from this ‘he said/she said’ process works so well that I now do it for every book I write. I don’t just ask the hero and the heroine to tell me the story, but also the secondary characters and the villain. They might not be there to witness all of the action, but they all have seen something. Each in their own right believe that the story is about them. In addition to my ‘interrogation’ process, I write down physical descriptions of each character because I’m always forgetting eye colors. *ggg*

Any questions? What works for you?

18 comments to “How does she do that?”

  1. Jordan, I build character similar to you. I situation/scene pops in my head and by delving into the why/when/where/what/how of it, I discover character and the plot. I never do character interviews. I learn a lot more by asking ‘why?’ what are you here? why did you say/think/do that? why do you feel that way–what happened today, last week, 5 years ago/ in your childhood that made you react this way now? Stuff like that is fun. Its like solving a puzzle, a little sky over in this corner, a little of the grass in that corner, slowly the picture (character/plot) is discovered.

  2. Jaq, That’s why I ask the characters to tell me what happened. Amazing things come out of their answers. It’s definitely a he said vs she said. I love it. 🙂

  3. My Muse tells me to sit down and write and it’ll all come together at the end. Except that I don’t like doing it that way. If I could, I would have neat little templates all over. I’ve started working on my own templates, but it’s not going anywhere yet. I am determined, and I shall succeed in turning myself into a plotter–or else I may go mad because pantzing is not good for my health.

  4. hahahaha, I’m not the only one writing what the voices in my head say! *ggg* No, really, this sounds so much like my process. A line of dialog, a situation, the whole story springs from that. I do love the idea of asking the characters to tell me their version of the story. Must try that sometime.

  5. Jordan, mine is a variation on the theme that you use. I use the same ‘what if’ I did when I was a little girl playing pretend. I ‘become’ that character in my head for a while and start writing ‘my’ story down (birth to present) in a sort of stream of consciousness 1st person flow. I include how I see ‘myself’ and how I think others see me along with my physical description and anything else that flows out onto the page. I’ve had great success with this method – although I do feel a bit like a split personality since I write the same way – depending on whose POV I’m in – I AM that person 🙂

  6. May, I unfortunately cannot afford to wait for my muse to put me in the mood to write. If I did that, I’d NEVER finish a book. 🙁 I’m a naturally lazy person, who has to get into the ‘habit’ of writing. What does that mean? I force myself to write a minimum of 500 words a day until I get the ball rolling. It takes about three or four days to take off, then I get on a roll and my productivity jumps tremendously.

    As for plotting, I’m actually not a straightfoward plotter. I’m half and half. I start out pantsing the book, then end up plotting it out to finish it. The more evolved my stories become, the more I tend to plot.

  7. Charli, You really should try that. It’s funny what they come up with. At one point, I had a hero ask what the heroine had said to make sure he was telling the same story. *ggg* I thought typical guy. LOL!

  8. Tina, LOL! I hear you on split-personalities. *g* I’ve tried doing the birth to present, but I always ended up using the present for the story. :-/ I guess I’m going to have to try it again and see if it works.

  9. Thanks for sharing that, Jordan.

    I usually do freewriting character bios – not the name, ceck; parents, check; eye colour, check-things but just noting down what gets into my head, mostly about their past which then influences what they’re going to want and how they’re going to act in the novel. In some cases I’ve got fine results that way, but some of the damn boys refuse to cooperate, and I look for ways to make them talk that don’t involve a rack. 😉

    Since I’m a plot driven writer, I have to make sure my characters, even the minor ones, are more than vehicles to transport the plot, therefore I look for tricks and methods other writers use. It’s always worth a try. 😉

  10. Yup, most of my books are born from characters. I always start with them first before I get plot. Hell Kat is a perfect example. Another one is BLOOD SECRETS, my first Nocturne, (as you know! 😉 that came about when I was watching CSI, and I thought what if Gil Grissom was a vampire? Then I developed the character, tehn the story about him.

    Great blog topic, Jordan!!!!

  11. You’ve misunderstood me, Jordan, I don’t wait for the Muse. I would never get anything done then, and I’m slow as it is.

    I mean that I find out things about my characters as I write them. So basically, I write, make a wrong assumption, and rewrite. Rinse and repeat. Makes it terribly difficult to plot. Grrr.

  12. For me, characters definitely come first and then I have to figure out what the heck their story is. 99% of the time, my first inkling is of the hero, usually in a stressful moment and what makes them special.

    One way of getting a handle on the story and/or character is getting other characters to talk about him/her. In one current WIP, my hero is in critical condition at the hospital and several friends had gathered in the waiting room and have told me so much about the guy that I didn’t know and have helped with several plot points. A similar scene featuring the hero fretting about the heroine of another story has given me a skeleton of a story, even if it never makes it into the story.

  13. I’m not sure if characters or plot come first for me. I walk around with stories in my head and characters already interacting. I won’t have more than what I’d call the “partial” already set before I start writing. At that point, I might plot, or if I keep dreaming about them and know what’s next, I just keep writing. I like going by the seat of pants best, because then I get surprised, too. 🙂 When I get bogged down in the middle of the book, I might have to get out my plot sheets and do some grunt work–then the book loses big appeal for me. Feels too much like work then.

  14. Gabriele, I look for tricks from other writers too. I’m reading the responses with great interest. 🙂 PBW had one of the best tricks, when it came to asking questions. 1. Who is this person? 2. What do they want? 3. What’s the worse thing that can happen to them?

  15. Vivi, That’s a terrific book. 🙂 I think we write fairly similar from the conversations we’ve had.

  16. Oh May, I’m sorry. I completely did misunderstand you. That’s a rough way to write (or at least extremely time consuming). Thanks for clearing that up for me. 🙂

  17. Laure, That’s an interesting idea. I’ve never thought about asking the characters what they think about each other. I’m going to have to try that one. Thanks! 🙂

  18. Delilah, I also start writing at the partial stage. I just have faith that the rest of the story comes to me. Sometimes it doesn’t…for several months. :-O Other times, I know it like someone is whispering the tale in my ear. My idea of plotting is simply writing down one sentence for each scene that needs to be in the book. I break them up into the three act structure, and then get to work. Sometimes the story changes due to a character’s behavior. Those times are cool as long as it doesn’t throw off my whole story arc.