Tuesday, April 20, 2010
The chicken (characters) or the egg (story)?
I am a rule follower, no doubt about it. I don't get in the express line with thirteen items; I get a mammogram every year; I floss. Once, I missed my connection at the Dallas airport because I took the train instead of walking, since that's what an airline official instructed me to do. The Guy (my husband) tried to tell me it would be faster to walk. "But she said to get on the train!" I kept saying. Oh, I can still hear myself.
Except for driving the speed limit, Plotter is a rule follower too. That's one of the reasons we get on so well. I can't tell you the times we've screamed in stereo between clenched teeth, "Why can't people just do what they say they will do?" That is always done in private because it's against the rules to scream in public unless you are being attacked or are at a football game. (If being attacked at a football game leads to double screaming, that's also within the rules.)
Imagine Plotter's surprise when it turned out that my writing style was, shall we say, free form. She's all about the story and she is very, very good at it. She wants to tell a story and needs some interesting characters to make it happen. Internal conflict, external conflict, Her black moment, His black moment, goal, and resolution—thank goodness she worries about all that so I don't have to.
I am not so much about the story. For me, the characters always come first and then I want something interesting for them to do. I've heard of other writers who fill out extensive questionnaires about their characters. I don't do that but, when developing a new character, I carry him with me in my head all the time. He does everything with me. I know what he likes to eat, listen to, read, and watch on television. I need to know if he's left handed, if he can draw, if he can dance. Even if it never comes up in the story, I want to know if he uses sugar, Splenda, or Equal and whether he eats whole wheat or sour dough. And most important, I want to know why he makes the choices he does. All that helps me know why it has to be her and no one else will do.
What comes first for you—the story or the characters? Do you have a method for character development?