Here’s a secret: I don’t have a clue what favorite flavor of ice cream is Virginia Kate’s (The Graces Trilogy books main character) favorite flavor. If I thought about it, maybe I’d have her go into the ice cream parlor and she’d step up to the counter and she’d order a . . . *kat thinks* . . . chocolate dipped cone. There. She doesn’t like pistachio like I do. She’d eat strawberry, though, yeah; we both like strawberry with real chunks of strawberries in there.
Sometimes authors make detailed “character sketches.” They know their characters so well, up to the minutetednest detail—their favorite foods, their favorite movies, how they look from the top of their head to the soles and souls of their feet—every detail about their physical appearance. They know every like and dislike, every nuance, every place the character has been or worked or gone to school, etc etc etc. — Lawdy! I have a headache just thankin’ about all that!
When I first began writing fiction, I thought there was This Way I was supposed to write and think and do and be, and if I wasn’t This Way, then I wasn’t a Real Writer. I might as well have put thick gloves on my hands and tried to write that way, for thinking “what I am supposed to do” versus “what is comfortable and real and instinctual” for me creates boundaries where there should be free space. You know how I came up with the Sweetie character? She came to me whilst I was walking Muse Trail One in my Smoky Mountain cove. Hovered there as an apparition demanding me to tell her story–first time that’s happened. Was it real or imagined in my writer’s mind? Who cares? Sweetie has become one of my most beloved books. I won’t question it.
For me personally, when it comes to character, I learned I have to discover my character(s) as I write, and even in that discovery, just as it is with meeting real people, I never know every detail about them, and may never know every detail. Up until the last Graces book (Family Graces), I was still discovering who Virginia Kate is. If I have an ice cream scene, that’s when I find out what flavor she will choose and likes (chocolate dipped cone! Now I know!). If I have a movie scene, maybe she’ll talk about her favorite movie, and then again, maybe she won’t—maybe I’ll never know her favorite movie. I know she loves books, and has a special place for her Black Stallion and Black Beauty books, but what does she read as an adult? Well, I don’t know. She hasn’t had time to read because she’s going through her families’ archives (their letters, journals, photos) and storytelling their lives. When I wrote my sixth work The Lightning Charmer, I first tried to shoehorn things I thought I wanted for my characters into the book–I was trying to please someone outside of myself, and the book was suffering for it. It took me a long time to relax and let the characters have their way, and even so, it’s still a book that my readers either dislike completely or love as their favorite–not much in between with that book.
Well, y’all all know how writers love to give advice—heck, I do that here on my blog every so often or often or every once in a while. Most all of us mean well. Many of us give advice because we want to tell you “Hey, relax a litle–it’s all okay; really!” We want to support you and help you; we want to give you guidance; we want to perhaps make things a bit easier on you where we had to muddle our way through; and we want to talk about the craft, the language, because it is important to us and we love it so. It’s rarely to tout and shout about our books even when we shamelessly put photos of them in the post and all that because our publishers are probably upset at us for rarely talking about our books, teehee, lawd. (And y’all know I rarely tout my books–but perhaps I should do more of it? How else will people know about my books? How else will I please my publishers?–more on this later in another post, y’allses.)
How you write; how the process is for you is an individual decision–a unique glimpse into the mind of you as Writer/Author/Novelist. If you like to discover your character as you go along, or if you like to write detailed character descriptions—who can tell you which is “right or wrong” because neither way is “right or wrong.” If you read how a writer does his or her thang and then you try to duplicate that and in that trying to duplicate you hit wall after wall—your character becomes wooden, or doesn’t seem real to you, or something just isn’t right about this character dang it all!—then find your own way. Take off the borrowed gloves and feel the flexing of your own fingers, the feel of the keys, the freedom of ungloved hands.
Go Forth and Write, y’all!