Thursday, April 6, 2017

Ask your characters

In the course of reading a popular novel recently, I stumbled on an exciting new method of fleshing out characters AND improving your plot.  Character interviews.

Not the old "How old are you?" interviews we've used to develop characters. These interviews with characters are about the story.

Years ago, I remember reading Joyce Maynard's TO DIE FOR (Signet PB $5.99) because the book is told in a series of first-person chapters from the viewpoint of about a dozen different characters.



Turns out the book is wonderful. I realized, as I heard each character tell his or her perspective on what happened, that this could be a terrific way to explore not only our characters but improve our plots as well.

Here's how it works, using my protagonist Kate Mandolin as an example.

Pretend Kate is being interviewed.

"What happened?  Well, I don't think anyone is entirely sure yet but here's what I recall. I was at a garden party at the Wingfield Park outdoor stage to make money for a charity. Normally, I wouldn't dream of showing up at a thing like that; all those damned millionaires. But, my friend Michelle Monroe, who's married to the casino owner, Matthew Monroe, talked me into coming.  So, anyhow, I'm just walking around, meeting people, sipping on a drink, when a sniper on the roof of a building across the Truckee River from us shoots Monroe's public relations man.  Most everyone is convinced it was an attempt on Monroe's life, but I'm not so sure."

Then, for another perspective, here's another major character (Randy Holloway) talking about the same thing:
"It was one of the scariest things that ever happened to me, man. I should have known when I got an invitation to come as a guest to this deal in RiverWalk, that it was a setup. But I was curious. That's my business. I used to be a newspaper reporter; now I write books. So, you wanna know the truth, I think the sniper was hired to kill me. I mean, look at the facts: the guy who did buy it looks enough like me to be my brother. If I hadn't gone back to the shrimp tray again, I would have been up there closer to Monroe and his wife because that's where my reserved seat was. Geez, now I'm really scared. Because now I know they want me dead."

Try it. Simply write from the perspective of several of your major characters talking about what HAPPENS somewhere in your book; the same events from the perspective of different characters. Don't have the character talk about himself or herself unless it helps them relate what happened.
Have them talk about the plot. Talk about what happened. Don't just use material taken from your book and don't use it in your book.

Write this off the top of your head, or - more to the point - off the top of their heads. Try to get into each character's brain and respond the way they would if someone stuck a mike in their face and asked, "What happened?"

If you try this with each of your major characters you might be really surprised what you discover about them and the plot.

From NOVEL SECRETS (paperback or Kindle)
http://smarturl.it/novsec