Bringing a Story to Life – The Life of a Character

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My books usually end where they began. I try to bring characters back to a point that is familiar but different because of the growth that they have gone through. – Sara Zarr

Foreground.  As a writer and a reader, I prefer strong characters to strong scenery.

I can picture a forest easily enough.

 

Show don’t tell.

 A spy is a different story.

Male or female? Russian or British?  German or American?  Cold war spy or current day hacker? 

 As a writer, I have to remind myself not to lead the reader, to let them fill in the details.

 This is a balance in paranormal fiction where readers often have pre-conceived ideas, though little personal experience. 

 With Metatron’s Army, the characters drive the story.

It’s been this way since its inception 35 years ago.

That they found themselves in a science fiction novel was simply the “clothing they wore.”

Though some of the paranormal elements are tied to real life experience; the NDE.

The characters were born before the plot.

Though not by much.

Background.  Character motivation is important to me.  Why is a character the way they are?  What shaped them?  What continues to shape them?  What is driving them to do what they do?

As a reader, I hate it when I find myself thinking a guy/woman/child/etc wouldn’t act like that, wouldn’t do that.

As a writer, I spend a lot of time “getting to know” my characters, getting comfortable with them before putting them in their places (i.e. antagonist, hero, strong secondary character).  This process isn’t the same from series to series.

In Silicon Valley Hangover, the characters just appeared one day.  I had to spend time observing them, reading their body language, trying to understand why they were feeling awkward with each other.

The plot grew out of the answers to the “why’s?”

I try to learn as much about my characters’ motivation as possible so that writing them is seamless.

I spend time interviewing men or people of other cultures and/or religions to gain insight that helps strengthen the characters.  I talk with professionals, such as pilots, or those in the military, if I need their perspective. 

As a reader, I love it when I find a writer who either has experience or has done some great research.

Victoria Laurie comes to mind.

With Metatron’s Army, I had lived with some of the characters since the story began to take shape but it wasn’t until I started to write that I really got to know them.

 In fact, I’m still learning them as I go along.

Sometimes character roles flip.

In Metatron’s Army, I ended up liking one of the antagonists so much, I turned him into a hero.  A character who had been somewhat of a benevolent despot became a vindictive antagonist.

In the Middle.  To be vibrant and interesting, characters need to grow throughout/as a result of the story.

This is particularly important in a series.

Life experiences change people.  The same should be true of characters.

Remember your English tests?  How did the character change as a result of [the plot]?

In a single title, a writer can start at any point in a character’s life.

They are a child who grows, a teen who is on a journey of self-discovery, an adult who already  has the skills to take on the adversity presented by the plot.

With a series, it can be a bit more difficult.

You can start anywhere but you need to pay attention to character development.  If you drag it out the character stagnates.  If you go too quickly, you run out of options for character growth and the plot goes stale.

Metatron’s Army takes place over decades.

Some of them passed before the reader joins the story.

To deal with the complexity of the characters, the fact they have separate yet parallel goals in some cases, I have worked to keep each book self-contained, even as it is key to the overall series.

A good idea in a series, anyway, I think.

Pacing the writing.  A multi-tasker, I typically think ahead, even as I’m working on a project.

Sometimes, it’s the next book, sometimes, the next project.

Given the complexity of plot and character evolution in Metatron’s Army, to stay organized I have approached my writing differently.

I have several of the books written already, though most are in draft form.  This allows me to go back to an earlier book and adjust if I need to.

If, for instance, I decide to take a character in a different direction down the line – did I set it up to be a believable development/change/evolution?

I also go back and read previous drafts to ensure there is continuity in the series.

And, more importantly, in the characters.

Characters as writers.  This project is unlike any other I’ve done.

Thirty-five years in the making, it evolved through a series of visual shorts, in dreams and daydreams.

After decades of living with this story, I tend to slip into autopilot when writing.

That doesn’t mean the story has become” familiarity breeds contempt.”

My unconscious has introduced some surprises for me.

At the end of Positional Play, Book Four in Metatron’s Army, I found myself led to an unplanned, yet completely logical plot twist.

Through Metatron’s Army, I’ve learned that sometimes, characters know best.

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