SOTP Writing: Characters

I write by the seat of my pants, something I’ve discussed before on this site, but I’ve discovered much that I do is what outliners do. I just do them at different times.

Take characterization for instance. I do character bios, but only after I’ve met the folks who will populate my novel. When I sit at the keyboard with a new idea in mind, I also have a general idea of who my characters are and what they’re like. They introduce themselves better as I go along, something that I dearly love because they’re always such a surprise.

But when an incident in the plot occurs, and they respond differently than I expected, I have to talk to them about it. “Why did you say that?” “Why makes you feel this way?” That’s when I go into free-writing, a trick taken from outliners. I sit down with a pen and my spiral notebook and conduct an interview. I always write in the character’s POV, using his own voice to tell me what’s going on or what went on in his background to influence the person he is. That’s the closest I get to a character sketch, but it works.

Recently while working on The Cat Lady’s Secret, I had trouble with one of the minor characters, Spencer Milligan. He’s an angry young man, and I needed to know why, but my need to know occurred far enough in the book that I knew a little about him. He’s seventeen and loves to play baseball. His parents are divorced, and he doesn’t understand why. His dad gets him on weekends; his mom has a new boyfriend. I know what his father does for a living, how he feels about being divorced, how he feels about Spencer’s anger problems, and how strict he is with his son. His mother isn’t a character in the novel, but I’ve insinuated enough about her to tell me all I need to know about her son.

Keeping all this information in mind, I asked myself, “What would make a young man become so angry?”

A basic knowledge of psychology would give the obvious answer–he’s angry that his parents are divorced. Still, I wanted to dig deeper. Divorced parents aren’t uncommon these days. Something else must’ve happened to get this boy so mad.

So, I talked to him about it. First thing I discovered was the incident he believes caused his parents to split up–something centered around him. He feels he’s to blame for their divorce, but a seventeen-year-old would know his parents’ split-up would have nothing to do with him. That’s when I discovered how young he was when they divorced, and how long he has been holding in all this hostility. The discovery made his actions in the novel logical.

That really is all there is to it: take the time to understand the character within the confines of the story. Let your characters introduce themselves and get to know them. Keep a record of what they reveal to you so you can use that information to learn even more. Free-write in their POV so you can hear their voices and reveal their stories while remaining true to their character.

Happy writing!

About Linda W. Yezak

Author/Freelance Editor/Speaker (writing and editing topics).
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14 Responses to SOTP Writing: Characters

  1. K.M. Weiland says:

    Isn’t it great how all this good stuff – all these logical reasons – are almost always buried in our subconsciouses? I just figured out how to flesh out a new story idea, and I’m mentally waltzing all around the room with my new characters. Love it!


  2. I do the same thing–well kind of. I have to at least write 3 or 4 chapters before I can do any sort of outlining, even if I don’t use those chapters. They at least help me get to know my characters and what I DON’T want to do.


    • Linda Yezak says:

      Sherilyn, that’s exactly what I do. Terry Burns, in his book, *A Writer’s Survival Guide to Getting Published*, says he doesn’t spend much time on the first chapter until the book is done because it always changes anyway. I know mine does.


  3. In my newest story, two of my characters surprised me when they told me they’ve fallen in love and wanted me to write their wedding. That was never my original plan for Kevin and Melody. I meant for them to be simply friends, all through the trilogy, but from the beginning of The Wild Green Yonder, they’ve been thinking too much alike to avoid the inevitable.

    ~ VT


    • Linda Yezak says:

      Aha! A romance! Like I’ve always said, it doesn’t matter what genre you write, you can find romance.


  4. Great info! Helped me a great deal. I have been doing something similar,but not in quite as much depth. Great tool. Thanks!


  5. Joanne Sher says:

    This is SO helpful, Linda – great post to ponder!


  6. I have a character who is constantly surprising me with his motives for pursuing a homosexual relationship for almost 9 years. The more I dig, the more complicated and fascinating he becomes. It makes his decision to get his life back on track as the Christian he is all the more powerful.


  7. Linda says:

    Don’t you love it when your characters show depth and complexity?!


  8. Andrew says:

    I write by the seat of my pants for short stories but I find it doesn’t work so well for novels. They sort of sputter and then clunk to a stop, leaving me in a cloud of black smoke with a twisted heap of useless material in my hand. I’m trying the whole character outline thing and it’s helping somewhat though! I am not the story teller: my characters are. I’m merely giving them voice.


    • Linda Yezak says:

      Yeah, they can do that. This is one reason why I do a lot of brainstorming. I’m not an outliner, but I keep a notebook on each of my projects (something I learned to do the hard way), and have loose outlines and ideas that I turn to when I need them.

      Thanks for visiting!


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