Sunday, March 29, 2009

What a Character!

It's been over a month since I last posted. Life has been full and that's been the reason for the radio silence. Good things may be in the works, but none have come to fruition so I'll keep them under my hat at the moment. Should one of them blossom, you'll hear it pronto.

In the meantime I've been mussing around with characterization, my personal project for 2009. I've invited a few of my fellow authors to blog about characterization and the first of those posts will appear next Wednesday (April 1) courtesy of David B. Coe.
David's an accomplished author who crafts the most fantastic, vivid and entertaining fantasy worlds. But for all that, if his characters didn't ring true the stories wouldn't be worth reading. David knows the ropes, so be sure to stop back and see what tips he has to offer on the subject.

To help me figure out the characters in my current urban fantasy project, I created a Character Dossier for the really important characters. For example, my heroine's dossier includes information such as:

Full Name: Riley Anora Blackthorne
Name Means: Riley - “Valiant” Anora - “Light”
Age: 17-1/2
Birth Date: (to be determined)
Location: Chicago
Birth Order: Only child
Parents: Paul & Miriam (Henley) Blackthorne

Riley hasn't told me when she was born (yet) and when she does that will give me additional clues to her personality when I correlate her birth date with the Zodiac signs. Being an only child is something I can relate to. I've been to Chicago and love the area so I sorta have a sense of what Riley's life was like until they moved to Atlanta. I also have a photo of Riley (to me she looks like Emma Roberts). Taking this information, I've extrapolated where Riley is at the start of the series, where she should be at the end of the series, and the life-changing events that occur to her in the meantime.

Sounds good, right? It is. I know this character fairly well despite the fact she's *cough* a number of years younger than me. I have more of a sense of Riley than I do most of my heroines at the beginning of a book, and I can see where the story arc is headed. I have come over to the Darkside (sort of) as there will be less fog walking through this series than, let's say, the Time Rovers, which originally was a standalone book (SOJOURN) that grew into a series. For me to have this much information going into a book/series is unheard of. That tells me this one is really going to rock.

Fine and good, you say. You got what you need. So write the books. The issue is transferring the intimate knowledge of any given character into the story. How do I layer in those details over the course of the books and how to I show Riley's growth as the stories spin out?That's where it gets tricky.

I think part of that issue is already taken care of by the mere fact I have that character dossier. I've been referring back to it as I write, checking off the various aspects of Riley's hellish life as I complete each chapter. But lest you think I'm hewing strictly to this dossier, I'm also correcting and changing it as I go. The further I trudge into the story the more I know each character so I'm reflecting that in the dossiers. So it's a dynamic process.

So how do you deal with characterization in your books? Any tips on how to coerce recalcitrant characters to reveal their innermost souls?

Be sure to stop back Wednesday for David's wisdom. It'll be about the only thing on April Fool's Day we can take as kosher.


steve on the slow train said...

I'm not great at characterization, so I'll be looking forward to David's post.

The name Riley suggests an Irish heritage and a fairly recent birth. (This would be a man's name in pretty much any time but ours.) And a Chicago birth demands a neighborhood--Bridgeport or Canaryville on the South Side are good possibilities is she's Irish, or Northwest Austin on the West Side. The North and Northwest Sides are good candidates as well.

The name Blackthorne conjures up images of John Blackthorne of Richard Clavell's books. But it's still a wonderful last name.

Jana Oliver said...

I've indicated in the story the family had British roots, but apparently there's some Irish as well with a name like Riley. It's funny how characters name themselves. Her dad (Paul Blackthorne) is an homage to the actor who portrayed Harry Dresden. I've always thought it was a cool last name and finally I get to use it.