Thursday, June 2, 2011

Know Your Characters

by Amy Dahlke

The other day, I met one of my characters. I was at a rock concert and one of the opening bands was made up of some local boys. The main singer walked out, I gasped, and yelled into my friend's ear that he was Snake, a character from one of my stories. For an unreal second, I honestly thought, "but wait! He lives in Moon Crest, Washington!" (And yes, for those of you who are familiar with Washington, you're right: Moon Crest isn't even a real town.)The singer really looked that much like how I always imagined my character. Except for the fact that his piercings were in the wrong spot, Snake plays baseball and can't carry a tune. Sorry, I guess that was facts.

When I'm reading a book, the characters are the most important part. If they don't seem real, if they don't have quirks, if I can't emotionally connect with them, I will stop reading that book. Because of that, it has always been of great importance to me that I make my characters realistic, quirky, and connectible. I make sure I know my characters inside and out.

I know a lot of writers who sit down and write out everything there is to know about their characters. Down to their political party and blood type. There is definitely nothing wrong with this, but I'm just not the type of person who has the patience for this. And a lot of times that makes me feel like they aren't a real person. Just someone I've created. Because, to me, my characters are real. They live in my mind and have their own stories. But maybe that makes me sound schizophrenic.

Like in one of my stories, an unexpected, unwanted love triangle emerged. I knew who I wanted to end up together but this other character (ironically, it was Snake) pushed his way in and said, "No, I want Emily!" It made things very difficult for a long time and the three characters battled it out in my head, but Snake finally admitted defeat and decided Emily was better off with Cody. Besides, he didn't want to mess up his and Emily's friendship. (I don't know what that story had to do with anything.)

Sometimes I even get to the point where I'll act like my character or become the character. Like one time I had just written a scene where my character ran out of peanut butter and the only thing she would ever eat for breakfast was toast with peanut butter. I was at the store that next morning and found myself thinking, "Oh yeah! Nicole's out of peanut butter! I should get more!"

Then, only a few days later, I was clothes shopping and saw a dress and said, "That would look great on Olivia!"

My brother gave my a funny look. "Who's Olivia?"

"My book char--ah, never mind." My family is used to my crazy by now.

Okay, so that was a completely uninformative blog. Except you all know I have people living in my head, talking to me. I guess that's what you've learned! If suffer from this same occurrence, you know you're a normal writer. Or, at least as normal as me!


Small Town Shelly Brown said...

LOL! So funny.

The people are so important. They are you and me. They are our best friends and our brothers. They are my favorite part of storytelling, too :)

Angie Cothran said...

Love it Amy! I wish I could meet my characters. How surreal!

Anonymous said...

I have a list of characters racing through my head now...wondering what Kendra would wear, or if Bob caught a big fish this weekend on his trip. I love that they are so real to you...Awesome Post. It got my mind churning!

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