I feel like if you’ve been here any length of time, you probably know where this post is about to go. But if not, buckle up. We’re doing this thing.
I usually get a line of dialogue or a snippet of a scene rolling around inside my head. The first thing I do after that happens is figure out what kind of person would say or do the things pop into my brain.
For example, in In Bounds, the book that will be releasing soon, I had a line of dialogue in my head: “Butterscotch chips can’t dance with all that skirt.”
So, I had to rewind a little bit and ask myself: Who the hell would say that? And more importantly, why?
Remembering my former sister-in-law’s butterscotch colored bridesmaid dresses, I thought to myself: Someone who was forced to wear a hideous bridesmaid’s dress. That’s who.
That thought inevitably led to: If someone forced to wear a hideous bridesmaid’s dress felt like she couldn’t dance with all that skirt, what would she do? She’d lock herself in the bathroom stall at the reception and cut off the the bottom of the skirt to an appropriate danceable length, of course. With the nail scissor tool on the Swiss Army knife she keeps in her purse. For emergencies. Like dancing.
Which led to: Who the hell would do that?
Followed by the rapid realization of: A drunk person!
That answer only produced another question. What bridesmaid would get that drunk at her BFF’s wedding reception? But happily, it also produced an answer. Oh…one whose long term college boyfriend/fianceé dumped her the night before.
Followed by another realization: You know what else that drunk, depressed, butterscotch chip of a bridesmaid might do? Hook up in a utility closet with the bride’s younger brother. Who’s hot. And has an English accent. And also really hot. And English. And plays sportsball.
And that, dear readers, is how I came up with the character of Ivy Wright, heroine of In Bounds AKA The Sportsball Book.
After that initial fit of character creation, I realized that Ivy is an elementary school teacher and reading specialist. She’s also done her best to pretend the drunken hook-up (12 years’ prior) with her best friend’s little brother never happened. She’s carrying around a lot of baggage from that time of her life, but she’s doing her best to push past it and move the hell on.
Once I’ve gotten that much down about a character, I start thinking about what she looks like. For me, the easiest way to do this is to cast a movie in my head. I know some writers refuse to use actors or other public figures as character inspiration, but I find it helpful to use existing sets of features and sometimes mannerisms. So, I pick someone she resembles. In Ivy’s case, it’s a slightly heavier Rose McIver with darker hair and gray eyes.
After that, I just let the rest of the story and her character unfold as I write it. I don’t use an outline, because clearly, that’s not how my brain works. I also don’t use those character sheets where you answer 75.7 trillion questions about your characters past, likes, dislikes, favorite childhood stuffie, etc. Not that there’s anything wrong with those. I think they work great for some people. I’m just not those people. But, I am a big fan of sorting out the character’s goals, motivations, and conflicts in the first chapter or so. Sometimes, I know what they are as soon as I start the story – other times I figure them out along the way.
As I’m sure must be fairly apparent by now, I have ADD. Some days, it’s a fucking curse. Other days, it’s an absolute gift. It allows me to make connections that probably never would have happened for me if I were trying to do it in a more linear fashion. Storytelling is one of those occupations where weird leaps of logic or thought might mean you run face first into a wall. Or it might mean that you end up with a drunk, recent college grad who’s holed up in a too-small bathroom stall with a giant taffeta dress, the scissors tool on her Swiss Army knife, and the beginning to a story you’ve fallen in love with.
Thanks, brain. Let’s keep doing this.
Be sure to check out how Jessica and Torrance create their characters.