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Getting to Know My Characters Before I Write
There’s always a lot of chatter about whether or not a writer is a plotter or a pantser. Plotters have the entire story worked out, probably outlined to the T. Pantsers dive into the story with only a vague idea about where or how they’re going to get there, except for the required HEA (happily ever after).
I admit I started writing my first book as a pantser. That’s how in eighteen months I ended up with a 142 thousand word completed manuscript. Granted, it was a multi-genred book more in the style of Barbara Bradford than a strict romance. With the help of a critique group, I was able to edit out fourteen thousand words before I started submitting it to agents.
When I started my next book, I did first person character journals and actually did some plotting. No elaborate outlines, but I did enough plotting that I had to set the ms aside for a while, because it felt like the story was done and there weren’t any more surprises. After a couple of weeks, I forced myself to start writing again. This one ended up as a 72 thousand word novel and was my first published novel, LOVE ON THE RUN.
One thing writing a first person journal will do is eliminate the urge to dump all that back story into the first few pages of the book. Since then, I’ve continued with first person journals for my hero, heroine, as well as the villain if I’m writing a romantic suspense story. In addition to the journals, I’ve also done several character interviews. These give me the chance to ask my main characters all sorts of nitpicky questions. I may not need to use all of their answers, but I can choose what to reveal throughout the story naturally.
First person journals give me more in-depth information about back story, which includes the necessary baggage which every hero or heroine worthy of the name carries. It also gives me a chance to “hear” the character’s particular voice, and that’s something I need to make the dialogue natural to each ones education and situation. Writing the first person journals gives me the opportunity to discover whether the character is generally optimistic or a trifle pessimistic. This pre-writing, which only takes a session, or maybe two, helps me to dive into their individual goals, motivations and conflicts which are the building blocks which drive the story. GMC has already been covered by the fabulous Debra Dixon, and I highly recommend it for developing that aspect of your story. http://www.debradixon.com/books/gmc.html/ I bought this book early in my writing career, and it remains on my reference keeper shelf.
What do I do after the first person journals? I do a tiny bit of plotting. I just sit at the computer and let my fingers flit over the keyboard. Ideas come to mind for possible scenes. Then, I write the first few pages and then a few more. If the story is working for me, then I keep going until the first draft is done. I must add that the first draft can take me anywhere from two and a half months (my personal best) to three years.
Many times an idea will come to me and I’m in the middle of another story. When that happens, I’ll open up a new document and sketch out what comes to me at that time, title it, and file it in my future stories folder. While I could always multi-task on my old day job, I can’t in writing. I have to finish one before working on another. I truly admire those who can work on multiple stories at once, but sadly I’m not one of them.
For me, one of the best things that happens in writing is when the characters begin to come alive and live out their romance.