by Erin Cashman
Some writers fully outline their book before they even put a word on the page. Each chapter is detailed. The cast of characters is set. A friend of mine who does this spends a long time on this process, and then writing the novel comes fairly easily to her. Others start writing, and have no idea where they are going to end up. I’m somewhere in the middle. I usually know the beginning and the ending, but I like to let the characters tell me how I should get from Chapter One to The End. I have conceptualized my main character and important secondary characters, but often around page one hundred or so, they have much more distinct voices and personalities. I stop there, and go back to the beginning, adding depth and layers. This has worked out really well for my writing process.
When I finish my first draft, I put it down and walk away for a couple of weeks, and when I go back to it I take stock and really look at my main characters and their journey. Usually their transformation – whether it be small or significant, is apparent. But sometimes my characters can be a little cagey. It sounds strange, but I feel like they are holding something back, and I don’t know them as well as I could. And so I interview them, as if I was a reporter, and I knew every detail of their story. Here are some of the questions I ask:
- What is your deepest desire?
- What has shaped and influenced you? How has the tragedies and traumas in your life effected you? How does it influence how you see yourself, and others?
- How do you view yourself? Within your family? Within your peers?
- Describe yourself in three words.
- Define yourself. When all of your fears and doubts are stripped away, who are you?
- At the end of your journey, where you proud of yourself? Did you accomplish your goal? What would you change? How could you have done better?
As I play interviewer to my character, I am often surprised by the answers. But once I write them down and review them, I have a much keener understanding of my character. I use this information to drive my revisions, and hopefully, by the end, I have a much more developed character.
Erin Cashman is the author of the Young Adult novel The Exceptionals