I’m a pantser*. I should get that out of the way right now, so you understand where I’m coming from when I say I build my characters in a very backwards way—sort of like building a brick wall from the top down. Which, of course, doesn’t make a lot of sense, nor is it the best way to do things. But it’s how I roll. Please bear with me.
When I begin writing a story, I usually start with an idea or a ‘what if’ statement. Like: What if someone got hit by lightning and could suddenly hear ghosts?
So then I have to create a main character. And she or he needs to learn something and have some personal growth in the span of the book. And he or she probably needs to find someone to kiss (in my books, anyway) and encounter conflicts, and triumph over her conflicts and then tadaa! the book ends on a happy, satisfying note.
Sounds easy, right? Except, what is it that the character needs to learn? And what does she need to get past and WHO will she kiss? And most importantly, who IS she? Does she come from a good family? Does she have brown hair? Gingivitis? A facial tick? Does she twirl her hair when she’s nervous? Pee a little when she laughs? Is she a vegan? Does she hate the color red? How will she react if someone yells at her/stomps on her foot/kisses her unexpectedly?
Who IS this person?
Well the answer to that, when I begin a book, is: I don’t know. And that comes from being a pantser. I build my characters as I go, which means that halfway through the book, my character could do something or say something that makes me realize a part of her personality that I hadn’t perceived earlier. There are always little AHA! moments in my drafts, which also means that first drafts are ALWAYS ugly and messy and my characters are never as fully developed as they are after draft four (or four-hundred, as the case may be).
I personally think this is a terrible way to write and I certainly don’t advise it, but it’s what works for me AND is the best way for me to write, because A. I HATE writing outlines and character sketches and B. discovering who my characters are as they face the situations I put them in, is so much fun and is actually an organic way to figure out who they are. So it’s more work at the end because I need to go back and edit and layer in their personalities and fix quirks that I first got wrong. But like I said, it’s fun. And why am I writing if it’s not fun?
Now what about you – how do you build your characters? Do you sketch them out? Or just throw them in and see how they react to you torturing them?
*Dear Mom, a pantser is a writer who doesn’t outline, but uses the ‘fly by the seat of her pants’ method of writing. In other words, when I sit down to write a book, I have no supplemental outline, character sketches or real idea of a plot arc in my head. I usually start with four or five plot points that will happen in the book and then go from there. This may seem like a ridiculous way to write a book, and I agree, and I’m even thinking I may need to do something about it, but for the time being, this is how I work. You’re welcome for that little tidbit of insight into how your daughter writes.
P.s. how’s Florida? Come home soon – we have a party to plan.
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