Listening to the Characters

Langen&Co.OHG-D1Seven chapters have miraculously appeared as the start of my new novel (although Chapter 7 has to be significantly rewritten to accommodate my plan for #8 – I hate when that happens). Regardless, I’m starting to enjoy my characters.

I started writing this book somewhat reluctantly as a necessary sequel to a previous novel. Sitting down at the writing desk each morning had that deep-sigh-and-grit-your-teeth feel, as every morning used to when I worked in the corporate world.

But now, after 15,000 words, the characters have transformed from puppets I move around, to real characters. They speak to me, which means that when I plan a scene for one of them that’s not consistent with who that character is, it immediately feels awkward and wrong. It’s as if the character is saying to me, “No, I don’t want to do that.” Conversely, characters are now coming up with fragments of dialog and bits of action I didn’t expect.

Oddly, three central characters in this project are recycles from the previous book (75K words), so you’d think I would know them quite well already. I thought I did. For two of them, this is actually their third time out. They debuted in an earlier novel that simmers in a drawer, so they’ve been around several years.

I think what happens is that because of the previous book(s), I have a sense of the characters’ deep backstory, and I respond to that intuitively. That’s what allows them to speak to me. I also don’t spend much time laying out their histories, because I already showed it all in the previous adventures, and consequently, the current project even flows better, because readers don’t like backstory anyway.

So I’m coming to the surprising conclusion that it’s actually a bit easier to write a sequel than it is to create new characters from whole cloth. In the sequel, you already know who you’re dealing with and what to expect from them.

By contrast, I’m struggling with my new character, the nominal MC. I do have a biography and personality profile on her, but she has yet to surprise me. She’s still in puppet mode.


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