I often talk with friends about the characters like they are real people. I share snippets of story ideas and how I see a future series or character’s life unfolding on a page. When one of my dearest friends Ashley and I were discussing this blog series, I asked her about what topic she would like to read. She thought the idea of how all of the characters - whether major or minor parts of the story - are interconnected with full-blown backstories might be an interesting thing to share.
I hope you agree.
Last summer, I had the honor of reconnecting with an old family friend who is also a writer. We started talking about the process of writing and she told me she retired because she wanted everyone to quiet down. Instantly, I knew she was referencing the characters living in her head. I was simultaneously validated and relieved I wasn’t borderline certifiable.
Characters are the focus of any fiction – and often nonfiction – manuscript. They tell the story. The writer merely transcribes the events as told through the characters experiences. At least this is how the process works for me.
The character is the first place a story begins. This person begins to reveal himself or herself to me and I start the falling in love process.
With “Life on the Porcelain Edge”, quiet, unassuming Tessa Tarrington made a loud splash in my life when the opening line from her book popped into my mind while walking through the aisles of @barnesandnoble.
“Tessa Tarrington’s life was in the toilet.”
I wanted to know why her life was in the toilet and what I could do to help guide her back to dry land.
She quickly revealed she was the daughter of Sean Taylor’s (From Scratch) pastor, Tom Tarrington and that she’d grown up in the tightly knit community of Gibson’s Run, Ohio from whence she’d run, as far and as fast as she could, once she’d graduated from GRHS. And, Gibson’s Run was where she’d returned when her life splashed into the…well, toilet bowl. She came home to hide from the life she’d created in New Orleans, but with that running, she was forced to face the past she’d run from eight years earlier. A past including Ryland Jessup, Joe Taylor and the rest of the eccentric population of Gibson’s Run.
This is how characters are connected and grow. They are like vines and each branch divulges a different connection to new or old characters. Sometimes I hear the whole history at the beginning of the story and sometimes the backstory – including relationships with other characters – unfolds like a rose blossom.
When I started “From Scratch” I knew Sean was one of three brothers and each Taylor Brother had his own story to tell. Because each, one day, would be main or secondary characters I need to understand their histories and what paths they might be walking one day.
Joey – Sean’s younger brother – was such a loud voice he was able to reveal his shared history with Tessa and Ryland, becoming a feature character as the best friend of Ryland and a love interest for Tessa in “Life on the Porcelain Edge”. And as with most persons from Gibson’s Run, this is merely the beginning of Joey’s journey.
Other characters weave themselves through stories as they continue on their own personal paths off-page and those minor characters often have the most distinct personalities.
From Millie Tandis to Sissy Jenkins to Tessa’s best friends, Lily Mae and Ella, the minor characters in each story tie the whole tapestry together. They bring the color and the splash. And just like friends we only see once a year, each visit is a treasure.
Character development, for me, is about listening. Listening to the characters stories and allowing each piece to fit into the jigsaw puzzle to create the overall picture. And like my writer friend, I often want them to quiet down so I can focus, but on the other hand, I’m always ready to hear a little more. I guess I’m a little like Sissy Jenkins that way. Always curious.
PS – If you have any questions you would like answered, please post in the comments and I will make your question one of the “Behind the Writer’s Veil…” posts.