Characters Revealing Themselves


I’m trying not to panic about all this,
but as I work on BIRD BRAIN, 
I keep going back and adding bits and pieces of characterization.
Stuff I just recently discovered about the characters.

I’ve been working on this project off and on
(with lots of OFF), since April of 2008.
You’d think by now I’d know the characters inside and out.

What’s it like for the rest of you?
Do you continue to get glimmers of understanding as you write?
Or do you figure out all the basic, most important stuff beforehand?

Or, like me, have you ever thought you knew all the basic, most important stuff
only to discover you did not really know those characters?

As I said, trying not to panic . . .

18 thoughts on “Characters Revealing Themselves

  1. I thought I knew exactly what C was all about…. but she is unfolding, bits and pieces of things/people around me influence who I think this character may be, or how I think she might act. Then just as I think she I know… boom… I see/hear/think of something that adds a new layer.

    oh, fyi I am crazy.


    • Do you have room in the crazy boat? Move on over, because I’ve been experiencing quite a few of those Booms lately. But I do like your way of looking at it: adding a new layer.

      See? No more panic.


  2. Okay, I just finished DRAFT FIVE of my story today and I realized something about a character. If you think about it, in real life it takes you years to really know someone and even then you don’t really know them. SO . . . no panicking.


    • Another positive outlook….they’re still speaking to you. They’re alive.

      I like that (although full disclosure: I’ve never been able to hear my characters. They don’t speak to me as much as reveal themselves, I guess. I do envy those who hear their characters).


  3. I imagine getting intimate with one’s characters is a lot like dating someone–or developing a close friendship. You may think you know a person based on initial impressions, but it takes many shared experiences, sometimes years in the making, to KNOW them, really and truly. I think it’s great that you’ve developed (and maintained) a long-term relationship with your characters.

    It must be said here that I’m not one who has characters whispering in my ear, and I’ve never “danced with” a muse. But these characters are of your creation–part and parcel of you–so as long as you’re willing to trust your instincts, I think it’s highly unlikely that they’ll abandon you now.


    • Wow, I have so many thoughtful, well-balanced friends who see the positives rather than running for the hills in panic. Rather than “I’ve been working on this project 2+ years and still don’t know my characters?!” you offer the more gentle, loving “you’ve developed and maintained a long-term relationship with your characters.”

      So much good offered here. Thank you, Melodye.


  4. Hm, well you’re asking the plot person here, which means that I don’t usually know my characters very well at all until I’ve finished the first draft. Then I have to go through and flesh them out while still keeping the plot in place — yeah, it’s fun 😉 (It’s what I’m doing right now, in fact.)


  5. I totally get continuing glimmers as I write, and would be suspicious of any writer who says otherwise. I think if you know EVERYTHING before writing the ms, you’re probably a hack and your work will feel artificial and made-up to me.

    I think it’s exciting to find things out later. Kind of magical, like Oooooo! so that’s where that comes from?!


  6. Glimmers all the way — sometimes great gallumphing giant ones that smote me in the eye and make me re-think everything. And dizzying as those moments are, I love them. It’s part of what keeps me writing.


    • You all have such healthy perspectives on the whole characterization thing. I’m clearly wallowing at the wrong end of the pool.

      I eagerly await the next great gallumphing giant revelation to smite me in the eye!


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