I quickly realized that despite my best intentions, I had no control over my characters whatsoever. They took charge of their own lives and lived them to the best of their abilities.
It’s not like they appeared to me in dreams or anything…though that would make compelling stuff…it’s that I found myself thinking, “Riordan wouldn’t do that” or “When did Tiernan start sounding like that?” Looking back now on the character profiles Kevin and I wrote for the characters, they look nothing like their final selves. For example, Riordan, “Helped bring together all clans to fight last battle”; that quickly turned into “Led the Warriors during the last few years of the War to final victory”. Tiernan, “On his last trip to neighboring clan, met a woman (name to be determined) and fell in love.” In the final version, there’s none of that. Did we consciously change the characters to fit the scope of the book? Not so much. In reality, the characters grew into their own to meet the needs of the situations which we were writing about just as people in real life grow to take on greater responsibilities. No first time parent is really ready for their children, but they grow into it (if they’re good, that is).
Building a character is tough. I don’t know everything about the character when I make them, only enough to get them going on the page. I let the characters evolve as I go. After a long enough time, I have a picture of them in my mind that I can use to write with, and I go from there. Keeping each character separate can be tough, so I try to give each one some outstanding characteristic that helps them really ‘pop’ in my mind. Riordan is a natural leader. Tiernan has a huge phobia. Ainseal has a unique past. Shannah is an independent woman in a society of men. These things help keep the characters separate and interesting. From there, they evolved into what they are. Riordan isn’t just a natural leader, he’s a man who knows that leading sometimes means following. Tiernan doesn’t just have a phobia, he has a phobia of something that keeps him from entering a society where his place at the top of the societal structure is practically assured. And so on, and so on, and so on….
One of the things I like most in the series I enjoy (shout out to Steven J. Brust and Robert Jordan) is that each character has his or her own voice, something with which I can use to identify them. I know they’re different people because of the way they talk. In real life, we can generally tell people by the pitch, tenor, and cadence of their voice. On paper, all we have to go by is their sentence structure, word usage, phrasing. This, in case you’re wondering, is not an easy thing to keep in mind when writing. The only way I found to achieve it was to actually pretend (yep, I’m crazy) that I was in the middle of the scene watching what was happening. If I’d done it right, the words flowed well. If not, they didn’t. If I tried to force a character to say something that didn’t match the mental picture I’d built of them, the words fell apart; if I let them speak, the words flew across the screen.
Tomorrow for Part 4, we’ll actually announce the release of the book!