Thursday, October 22, 2009

Character Development and You.

How do you develop your characters? Do you do a general outline of their life? Do you write about that tragic event that happened to them when they were ten or eleven?

I'm ashamed to admit it: I don't do those things. I just go for it, learning about my characters as the first draft grows, allowing their reactions to form who they are. That's probably why I go through SOOOOO many drafts. I mean, of course I have a general idea of who my main characters are, but I really let the story tell me the rest. Their reactions to the dramatic stresses that are the plot, that's where I do the work.

However, I remembered this one exercise I read about, quite awhile ago. I can't remember in which of the hundred or so books on writing I own I read it in, but it was a cool thing, and thinking about it made me post the question: how do you develop your characters?

Have you tried doing a diary, from their POV? Let them really go to town on whatever they want to talk or rant about? Like I said before, I'm not much for writing exercises; I'd rather just jump in and thrash about, hoping to stay afloat. However, this exercise sounded like fun so I thought I'd put it out there.

And just to walk the walk, here's a little bit from Mallen's diary, the protag from my latest book(s):

June 1, 2008

I never thought I’d be someone who would bother with a diary, or journal. Like there’s a difference between the two, yeah? I couldn’t even tell you–… and who are “you”, anyway? Who is this person I’m supposed to be writing this to? God, why the fuck am I doing this?

Oh yeah, I remember now: rehab. Or, to be more precise, my failed rehab. Fuckin’ rehab, man. What a joke. No, it’s not, it’s not a joke; it’s some serious shit with serious people trying to get seriously well. No joke, man, remember that.

So, who the fuck will I write this to? He told me I was supposed to write it to somebody, but who? Mom? Nah… she wouldn’t want to know I’m an addict. Chris? Shit, she wishes she’d never met me or had a kid by me. I bet she wishes she could open up her beautiful head and rip that bit of nasty memory right out of it, man. Yeah, I bet that’s what she wants. And fuck it, man, she’d be right, yeah?

And then there’s Anna.

Anna knows. She fuckin’ knows, man. What does that knowledge do to a little girl, anyway? Knowing that your dad/daddy/pops/old man/whathefuckever is a junkie?

Should I write it to the old man? To old “Monster Mallen”, the scourge of The Fillmore? The most bad-ass cop that ever rode for the S.F.P.D? The bastard that broke open a backdoor to a coke den with his bare hands by ripping the motherfucking Master padlock off with a roar that legend tells scared the piss and shit out of everyone in a four block radius? Should I write this to him?

I don’t want Anna to know this stuff. Or Chris, really, even though she’s seen some of it. Well, a lot of it. Fuck it, I’ll write it to Pops. Monster Mallen. He might understand some of it, the pressures, etc. He never broke, but maybe he’ll understand how his son did.

And maybe, maybe he won’t hate me too bad for it.


  1. Damn! You are so damn good at this.

    Like everything else I do, I usually just wing it with my character development, though they tend to stay pretty true to form. Maybe a few tweaks here and there during edits. Now, my plot on the other hand, is all over the place.

  2. WOW. This is the first of your writing I've gotten to read. You bring the wit. You bring the pain. You bring the real. Can't wait to pick your book off the shelf and buy it. Hurry up with the publishing, will ya?

  3. Thanks guys! I appreciate the comments. :-)

  4. That is inspiring. I've never done the diary thing, but your entry drives home the value. Of course, writing well helps too! ;-) As a reader, I got a pretty good idea of what Mallen's about. Nice work.

  5. Thanks, jon. Yeah, I didn't really realize the value of it either, at first, but it's now inspired me to use this as I move forward.