Put some flesh on the bones of my dreams
stole borrowed this line from David Gray’s song Flesh because it’s close to one of my favourite lyrics of all time. I’ve started writing two new novels so now it’s time to add flesh to the bones of my characters. Several years ago an editor told me she loved one of my manuscripts – BUT I had cookie-cutter characters that moved stiffly across the chessboard of the story. Woah! Even though I take criticism well, it took me a few days to digest this! I thanked her kindly for her comments, threw my characters back in the bowl, mixed them around, cut them out again and baked them until the were golden brown. It doesn’t matter how good your story is, if people can’t relate to the characters and care about what happens to them (no matter how wonderful or nasty they are) you’ve lost your reader at the first page. One way I add the flesh is to sit down with a friend and tell them the name of my character, their age, sex and the situation they are in. I then throw it them to question me as if I am the character (done in the evening with a glass of wine helps!) Don’t worry, my voice doesn’t change and I don’t grow a mustache for this exercise, but I do have to dig deep to find information.
BTW – This isn’t me
It’s amazing what you don’t know about your characters until you do this. Everyone asks different questions. It’s almost like you’ve met this person in a bar or coffee shop and suddenly start telling them your character’s entire life story. I don’t know what their questions will be and it’s best not to know. Having said that, they should go something along these lines: Where were you born? Do you have any siblings? Where do you work? What previous jobs have you had? Favourite food? Favourite song? First time you were hurt? Ever been in love? Greatest fear? Tell me more about why you have this fear? Happiest time of your life? And the list goes on and on… I can’t answer these questions about my characters unless I know them intimately. If I get to the point where I get stuck (like – where was your mother born or how old were you when you had your first kiss?) I usually say something like, “Do’h! I don’t know!” And I then know I haven’t added all the ingredients to hold that character together. It’s not as if the answers are going to be used in the story, but by the time my characters enter the story they are fully fleshed – I know them and my readers know them (even without the background information). It’s a handy little trick. Do you have other ways to flesh out characters? Vikki (The View Outside) recently wrote an insightful post about characters. So if this subject interests you, you can stop over at her site and take a look. Today I’m heading off on the big drive again and will be returning to the farm in about a fortnight after another big drive. What a life! I wish you all a wonderful, safe and creative Christmas and New Year.