I hear authors talking about how their characters talk to them, even dictate their own stories. Don’t get me wrong, my characters become people I know, whether I like them or not, but I have to wonder what I’m doing wrong. My characters don’t tell me anything. They are more like a recipe I create: little nutmeg, dash of empathy, tbsp sarcasm: protagonist.
I start with a character idea or a plot idea and from there I figure out what the best platform is. For instance, in the novel I’m writing The Voodoo Queen, one of my MC’s is a murderess. In the beginning, that was all she was until I developed her backstory. I needed to explore why she was what she was. I also discovered that I wanted her to be more. I didn’t want just a face for evil, I wanted layers. Add an egg and a dash of salt, maybe some cayenne: antagonist.
The other MC in VQ is an RN, who I wanted to be MC1’s opposite. You know, MC1 murders, MC2 saves people. However, MC2 turned out kind of flat, one dimensional. Time for a little pepper.
The same way I build my stories from the ground up, I develop my characters. I discover what personality I want them to have. Then I work backwards, figuring why each characters has that personality. What shaped them? What made them who they are?
Ta da: Backstory.
I find that I don’t often use each backstory, but it helps me understand who my characters are, it helps me stay true to the person I want them to be. Set the heat to medium, add ingredients, bring to simmer.
This is something I’ve only recently discovered. I’ve let ghosts of characters lead me down rabbit hole after rabbit hole, getting me so lost I didn’t even know what or who the hell my story was about anymore. I’ve been 80,000 words deep with no clear concept of my plot. Rogue villains, contradictory heroes, one hit wonder character appearances.
I learned though, that I need some guidance. I’m not this literary genius from which a fount of mastery writing pours. I need a golidlocks amount of structure. I can go into a story with no ending, no plot, no setting, but the one thing that I absolutely cannot do is venture into the unknown without my character recipes.
I have to know who the journey is about to know where the journey is headed.