Watching our characters blossom

Hi again, gang. Craig here today and I’m going to talk about my new book, The Hat. I’ll use it to discuss one of the best parts of being a writer. Here is a cover and blurb to give you an idea of what it’s all about. Then we’re going to talk about discovering our characters during the first draft.

The HatBlurb:

Lizzie St. Laurent is dealing with many of the struggles of young life. She lost her grandmother, and her living arrangements. Her new roommate abandoned her, and she’s working multiple jobs just to keep her head above water.

She inherits an old hat from her grandmother’s estate, but it belonged to her grandfather. This is no ordinary hat, but a being from an alternate dimension. One with special powers.

Lizzie and the hat don’t exactly hit it off right away, but when her best friend’s newborn is kidnapped by a ring of baby traffickers, Lizzie turns to the hat for help. This leads her deep into her family history and a world she’s never known.

Lizzie gives up everything to rescue the babies. She loses her jobs, and may wind up in jail before it’s over. Along the way, she and the hat may have a new way of making ends meet.

Humorous and fun, The Hat is novella length. Wonderful escapism for an afternoon.

So, yeah, I want you to pick up a copy and consider leaving a review. Just click on the cover image. This is Story Empire though, so we’re going to go into characters.

I occasionally read about an author discovering his or her characters while writing the first draft. This is one of the truly magical things that happens when we write fiction. We all start out with an idea of plot, and what the characters have to do to make things happen. Character kind of develops while we write. At least it does for me.

I knew Lizzie was a college dropout. I knew The Hat was a being from another dimension. That’s where the first draft started. Lizzie prompted me to figure out how a college dropout, and a girl to boot, might be living when the story opens. I have adult children, so I know a thing or two about how tough that age can be. My own kids have been through the unreliable roommate issues, just like Lizzie.

Lizzie immediately had struggles. Then I had to figure out how she would deal with those struggles. Turns out she tackles life head on. Go Lizzie.

The Hat has been here forever, well, since the days of the Greek City States. He’s kind of seen it all, including humanity at its worst. He’s not immune to feelings either, and he took up music as a way to escape.

Take those two individuals, lock them in a small space together and let them figure it out. I got some good notes by just daydreaming about their interactions. Both characters grew. Somehow, instead of working together, they had to become one to get to the end of the story. This led me to an interesting symbiosis. The hat can manipulate Lizzie’s body, but only if she lets him. This leads to some tension and stress.

The music made a return in an odd way. The hat doesn’t just listen to music, he plays it too on an upright bass. He cannot play the bass without Lizzie giving in and letting him use her arms and fingers. This led to some pretty fun moments between them.

This led me to asking what else they might do. The hat developed a few more shape shifting skills, including one with some sharp teeth. He also has the ability to track people by feeling, providing there’s been a prior contact of some kind. Eventually he developed the ability to even torture and brainwash others. You can’t have a paranormal story without a few scary things in it.

Lizzie is not someone he controls. She is her own person throughout the story. She may take cues from the hat, but he doesn’t have power over her. She teaches him a thing or two about the internet and the modern world.

Meeting and learning about characters in the first draft is my favorite part of writing. It’s amazing how they take over and expand their own possibilities. While they are blossoming on the page, they are also building fences at the same time. These fences establish things they would never do, or limits to what they might know. Good fences make for good characters.

The fences are just as important as the rest is, and don’t take it to mean there are limitations on the story. The story is pretty crazy, and Lizzie and The Hat are both strong personalities. Fences means the establishment of things that would be out of character, or beliefs that make them who they are.

So how about you guys? Do you make sheets and character diagrams prior to writing, or do they surprise you like they do me? I’d love to hear from you on this.

63 thoughts on “Watching our characters blossom

  1. Pingback: Writing Links…1/29/18 – Where Genres Collide

  2. I use character bibles where I write down what a character’s goal and greatest fear is. From there, I work on getting some information from them. The truth is, though, they don’t come alive for me until I write them. And sometimes if I have a problem character, it could be the second, third or beyond draft before they “click.” I do find pics, mostly of actors but sometimes in other photos, that represent the character, that’s their “skin” and then I build them a little by little until they’re whole. Like Staci, mine don’t really “change” so much as reveal themselves to me.Great discussion, Craig!

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  3. Pingback: Not doing what I should be doing | Entertaining Stories

  4. Great post, Craig! It’s fascinating to read the comments and re-discover just how different we all are. I rarely write a life-history sketch of my characters before I begin. I have a clear visual image in my head of the way they look, move and sound. At times I’ve searched for hours online to find someone that holds the closest resemblance to what I’m seeing. I pin that photograph image to a corkboard that sits opposite my desk. My daughter still laughs when she walks into the room only to find me having a chat with the characters pinned there. My most common question being “What would you do in this particular situation?” Sigh! 😊

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  5. I work pretty much like Joan with a brief character sketch and then let my characters develop as I write. In my current WIP, two have already taken on new aspects I hadn’t planned and, in the process, opened up additional plot threads.I think the most determined character I ever had was Jesse Carlisle from Eclipse Lake. I had originally slated him for a small role, but the more I wrote him and learned what made him tick, those plans changed. Jesse forced himself into a lead role in a very short time and turned out to be a favorite among readers despite not having the MC role. I’m often asked if he’ll ever get his own novel.

    It’s magical when characters surprise you like that.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. I do sketch out brief character outlines before I start–something to give me a base–but I build on it while I write the first draft, because, like you, I’m often surprised by where the characters take me.

    Congrats on the new release!

    Liked by 4 people

  7. I love this post and the many different answers about creating our characters. For me, I have an idea of what they are like before I start writing. I even give them birthdates and look at the astrological aspect of it. The most exciting and fun part of writing is the character development and watching them grow through the obstacles I throw at them. Thanks for this thought-provoking post, Craig.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. My characters start to gel as I outline. I put a brief bio for them in Scrivener when I start. (I need it for the story bible, anyway, and it helps me keep track of eye color, preferences, etc.) Then I write, and they fill out as I go. I don’t think they ever “changed” on me, but they do morph from conceptual to more realistic representations of people.

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  9. My characters surprise me as I write. I think through the story in some detail, but those thoughts become peripheral to the real story as it evolves. It’s an exciting process, isn’t it? 🙂

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  10. I do character bios that cover physical appearance, general role in story, and overview of history. These aren’t that detailed and I know they’ll flush out or change as I write, but it helps me have a plan for each character. I get some subplot ideas from this too. Much of this comes out by daydreaming, which people really overlook as a tactic. I think because it resembles staring into space.

    Liked by 4 people

  11. I do a brief character sketch. (Name, occupation, short physical description, and maybe a habit or two.) But I let them develop. They will sometimes surprise you. I had a different idea for the MC in my recently released novel (he was a minor character in the first book of the series) but he had other plans. Now that I’m starting book three of the series, they characters are already taking me on a journey. Great post, Craig!

    Liked by 4 people

  12. Like Harmony’s Katie (which by the way is an amazing book!), the main character of my series refused to let me live my life until I started writing out her story. I knew her plight (and its ending) from the beginning. My antagonist (well, one of them), however, caught me by surprise. He forced me to care about him and see things from his perspective, so much so that I am now going to write a prequel to show how he ended up on the wrong side of the good/evil line.

    Liked by 6 people

  13. My characters surprise me. Even the odd times I have mapped them out initially, they soon go off on their own tangent. Katie in Finding Katie took control right from the get go and dragged me out of bed in the wee small hours until I’d penned her story, lols. She was one determined and sassy gal! Thanks for this most, Craig, and good luck with the book! 🙂

    Liked by 6 people

  14. I usually imagine a lot of my characters life before the story, and even moments during the stories that won’t end up in the book. I don’t always write them down, but I make sure I know them well before I start writing.

    I don’t really like charts and interviews that forces me to come up with things like their favourite food or music or movie, especially if it’s not pertinent to the story. However asking myself questions about them helps me discover their traits.

    I don’t think I discover them much while writing, but I get to know them little by little in my pre-writing musings.

    Liked by 5 people

  15. I write mostly flash fiction so I just make up my characters for my short pieces as I go along. There isn’t much development. I’m trying to stretch my writing into short stories. I’ve written a few as yet unpublished by pantsing it but I’m strongly considering using character sheets. I’ve gathered information on doing it. Oh, and I just bought your book and I’m looking forward to reading it. 🙂 — Suzanne

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thank you so much. Micros don’t allow for a lot of development. Usually it’s more about an epiphany or a realization. As you get into shorts, you’ll get more of a character arc. Even on longer pieces, my characters show up during the drafting.

      Liked by 3 people

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