Friday, November 27, 2009

Bringing the Dead to Life

Pictured above: The working images I've chosen for Trevor, Johannah, and Leah.
Fellow writer and good friend Ramona K. Cecil suggests that fiction writers "interview" their protagonists and principal characters before beginning a new manuscript. I wish that I had done that with Camie in Up the Rutted Road, but instead I got to know her the hard way: word by page by chapter by triumph by danger.

The Second Cellar will be different. Though I've written 104 pages, I've learned so much during the revision of Rutted Road that I know I must begin again. But first, I'm taking Ramona's advice; I've interviewing Leah, my protagonist, as well as Trevor (Leah's neighbor for the summer) and Johannah (Leah's nineteenth-century friend). I may also interview Leah's father, Byron, the English professor.

It's amazing what a writer can learn from character interviews. All right. I can hear you asking, "Since you invented the characters, don't you already know them?" No. There is much to be discovered in an interview. For example, I had no idea that Leah's middle name was Bright. Nor did I know that she went for two weeks after birth without a middle name. Until Trevor's interview, I didn't know that he and his mother lived with his paternal grandmother, Fern. Further, his father died a hero while serving in Iraq; he threw himself on a grenade to save his buddies. Who knew?

I join Ramona in advising writers to talk to your characters. Get to really know them before you write their stories. Know their back-stories, as well. Don't be shy about prying into private matters. If they blush, let them blush. If they fidget, make note of that. Once you know them, you can write about them authentically.

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