Nothing is more fun to me as a writer than discovering a new character and uncovering his or her story layer by layer.  And nothing is more torturous.

Because even the most vivid characters hold back on me.  I will think I know them, understand them, and that I'm ready to write them, but then somewhere in the first draft they will reveal a secret or personality trait that I had no idea existed.  And it usually is a game changer that will require me to revise or rewrite large chunks of the manuscript.

This happens to me whether I plot or pants my way through a first draft.  It has even been known to happen in draft seven or eight.  I think this is because as the characters come to life on the page, they become more three dimensional. And the more time that I live with a character, the less obvious aspects of their personality start to come to life.

I attended a conference last year where one of the brainstorming exercises was to make a list of ten to fifteen things that could happen in a scene, and then to through out the first eight or nine you came up with, and focus on the later ones.  Why?  Because the less obvious stuff will usually be the most interesting.  I think that's true of character development too.  The less obvious stuff bring the characters to life, and often bring the stories to life.  And sometimes, that stuff will shape and explain other aspects of the character in ways that make everything fall into place.

First drafts are painful me to write, in part because I know I don't know the characters well yet, and I don't always know what happens.  It is hard for me, a linear and analytical thinker, to sit down and stare at a blank page.  But some of my favorite moments have come when a character does or says something completely unexpected while I write.  Something that helps me to understand them in a new way, or explains the last fifty pages of anarchy. 

I'll admit, that sometimes the discovery never happens.  Occasionally a character just lays lifeless on the page, and I can't coax out his or her secrets.  That's what second drafts are for.  Those characters can be cut, and other, more interesting characters can step in and fill those roles. 

I am learning to live with the fact that there are no shortcuts to developing characters.  All the character worksheets and brainstorming sessions in the world are not a substitute for long hours of trial and error as you write the scenes where these characters come to life. 

Go ahead.  Open that blank page.  Then listen.  Your characters might surprise you with what they have to say.


Oh my goodness! I stumbled across your blog this morning and I'm so glad I did!!

I can totally relate to characters that don't do what you need or want them too. Happens to me all the time. Feels good to find another that has the same sorts of troubles. (makes me feel more normal *grin!*) Thanks for the candor.

Usually I like being surprised by a character. But then there are the times you mentioned, when the surprise means Big Book Changes, that I wish I had a literary cattle prod to poke the characters into behaving MY way.

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