Writers constantly throw around the word characterization. There are numerous resources describing how to essentially, build people. With my characters, I just draw from the people I’ve known and shared experiences with. It’s worked well so far.
I’m not a writer who sits down to plot out each individual character and their entire history. It is important to know your characters, but I get to know them as I write them. Most of my favorites are the unplanned ones. They demand to be written and drive the story forward with their impulsiveness.
I’ve always centered my stories around characters I could relate to. The “write what you know” technique works. But what happens when you need to focus on a character so unlike yourself they are your opposite?
My writing Yoda says, “You don’t.”
And being me, I refuse to listen to him.
My Embracing Entropy trilogy is based on 3 main characters. The first book revolves around Allie, a determined woman who does what she has to for her family. It was so easy to write, I almost felt like it was too easy.
Well that’s caught up with me. The 2nd book is years later, told from her eldest daughter’s perspective, and Maddi is nothing like her mom. She’s an introvert who asks way too many questions. She lacks confidence and courage. This is way beyond me. I’ve been having to draw from others and it has been a struggle.
Last night I cried through writing chapter five. I’ve never done that before. I don’t cry easily. Her pain, her fear, her worries got to me and took over. The work came out well, but I am still reeling from it.
I know I joke about drinking while I write. In truth I strive to keep myself in check. Alcoholism runs in my family and I refuse to fall prey to it, but a good stiff drink is all that’s keeping me sane when I’m poring words over pages.
By day I calm down and regain my sense of self. My family is essential to that and I have a lot of other great aspects of life to keep me from going over the edge. Still, this process has been the most grueling.
I’m itching for tonight so I can get through it. Luckily I write fast and I love my characters so much I can’t leave them hanging in the balance for long. As I get further ahead, I can’t help but notice that the pure emotion is what’s really tearing into me.
It’s why we write.
Hopefully it’s translating well and will give readers what they crave. For now I’m realizing that this pain, the word hangovers and the need to finish, is part of characterization. My story has become so real to me that I am experiencing everything first hand.
I could map out as many fictional people as I want, but if I don’t feel what they’re going through that would be wasted time. Writers have to dig deeper. Whether we chart out lives and histories or just wing it, that connection has to be there.
We have to feel the character. Make our readers care. I want to cry with them, maybe not while I’m writing them, but until they are real they will not live off of the page in reader’s minds.