I’ve been thinking a lot about my characters for the book I’m working on. While I mostly write into the dark, I’ve found it helps me to have a feel for the characters before I start or, in most cases, as I’m writing the first 1,000 words. I need to feel them before their voices become clear to me.
This doesn’t mean that I draw up a character sheet. Character sheets make characters feel a bit cardboard to me. No. What I do instead is try to get a feel for what they want and what their initial problem is. I also like to get a sense of their clothing at the moment they are in the beginning and what they plan to eat for their next meal.
Then I usually panic that I don’t know enough about their circumstances to write them. Which is where I am right now. I know that this story begins with my character halfway up the cliff face of a Colorado fourteener and I know how she feels (she told me last night). I also know the problem she faces when she finally gets down and I’ve written a bit on that scene.
Now I am trying to remember my own experience with technical rock climbing and everything I’ve read on the topic. Female mountain climbers and explorers used to be one of my favorite topics. So in some ways this story gets back to my roots. But because I know just a little bit, I also know how much I lack.
Dan Brown suggests choosing an ethical problem in the topic you’ve chosen which people can honestly disagree on as the core question. He’s an interesting writer. He does a lot of research, figures out characters, and then writes the story into the dark. I’m turning this over in my mind. I don’t know if this will work for me, but it’s interesting to think about.
Dean suggests looking at Lester Dent’s Pulp Paper Master Fiction Plot
First Quarter of the Story (1500 words in a 6000 word story)
1–First line, or as near thereto as possible, introduce the hero and swat him with a fistful of trouble. Hint at a mystery, a menace or a problem to be solved–something the hero has to cope with.
2–The hero pitches in to cope with his fistful of trouble. (He tries to fathom the mystery, defeat the menace, or solve the problem.)
3–Introduce ALL the other characters as soon as possible. Bring them on in action.
4–Hero’s endevours land him in an actual physical conflict near the end of the first 1500 words.
5–Near the end of first 1500 words, there is a complete surprise twist in the plot development.
I have a good feeling for the problems my character is facing in the beginning, both on the mountain and when she climbs down.
The key today is to write that beginning. And for that to happen, I need to master my own panic as I start up the mountain of this novel. I’ve trained for this moment. I have all the equipment. No matter how many times I frantically check my backpack, I can’t pack every bit of research I will ever need into it. And I have good friends who are also novel climbers. I’m as ready as I can be to climb.
I can’t tell you how much I appreciate my fellow novel climbers! Let’s tackle that summit now.
Climb well, friends!