Christmas Shopping for Your Characters
I once read something about an author who, while Christmas shopping, picked out gifts for her family and friends…and for some of the characters in her books. She said she did this without even thinking about it.
I may have quietly ridiculed this author with a close friend of mine at the time, but now, it’s actually an intriguing idea—to know your characters so well that you’d be able to pick out gifts for them. It sounds like a good goal.
Knowing characters on the surface—whether or not they’d like a particular scarf, or prefer a gift card to Starbucks over Jamba Juice--those are great things to know.
But also important is knowing characters beneath that surface level. What they’re like inside. How this relates to their pasts, how much is innate. How sleep and diet affect their moods, as well as triumph, failure, solitude, crowds, and any other number of factors. I could drive myself crazy trying to spell it all out in my brainstorming notebook (and I have).
Then take it further: how would these characters act in situations (i.e. the scenes in a book) based on the above information? This, for me, usually happens during later drafts. And I know it’s working when I later come up with scenes without even thinking about it. While I’m walking or driving, I imagine the characters interacting, and the dialogue between them flows because by now I’ve really gotten to know them—their speech patterns, their preferences, their pasts. They’re, like, I don’t know, real people.
And while, for now, that’s where it ends for me, someday you might find me muttering to myself in a store, holding that bag of spiced figs for a character who has grown past my imagination and now resides in reality. I know she’ll just love those figs.
(Also, I usually wouldn't link to my own blog archives, but I had a blast imagining a conversation between three protagonists in different books I was working on, which is when I made the gopher image I included above. Click here for that post.)