Come with me, readers. See what it’s like inside my mind…if you dare.
I frequently have people ask where I get ideas for my books. Let me see if I can walk you through the process. I’ll try to show the creation of a story—a simple piece of wool that can be made into thread that could become a tapestry.
Usually the conversation begins like this:
“Kristine, where do you come up with the idea for your books?”
“I put a character in a situation and build from there.”
“But how did you find the character?”
“I make a character file and viola! A new character.”
For those of you who don’t know what a character file is, it’s basically a listing of all your Main Character’s (aka MC) physical descriptions, likes, dislikes, habits, goals etc. I also give each of them a Myers-Briggs personality profile. (I’ll devote another blog to Myers-Briggs later as it’s fascinating stuff.)
The crazy part about this method is I don’t use 95% of the information I create for their Character File. For example, Cameron, one of my MC’s in The Mansion on Swan Lake, stuttered as a child. Is that tidbit used in the book anywhere? No. It’s something only I know (now you do, too). However, this bit of his background helps me define who he is as an adult. That helps me determine how he’ll react in a given situation. Make sense?
Having a degree in Psychology and taking out all those student loans has come in handy at last.
See, Dad…I didn’t go into debt for nothing. (I love my dad.)
**As an aside** Some of those student loans financed Spring Breaks in Daytona or California. They also paid for a darn cute wardrobe. This irritated my father to no end.
“Just how do plan on paying all that money back?” he asked looking at me with a stern you-don’t-know-what-you’re-doing glare.
“Never fear. I have a most rockin’ plan.”
“And that would be what?” He scoffed.
“Simple, dad. I plan to marry well.”
With eyes wide in disbelief, he opened his mouth ready to say something, closed it, opened it again, but then just walked away shaking his head. How could he argue with solid financial planning like that? Or maybe he was too disgusted by my future fiscal preparation he couldn’t say anything. I’ve rendered my father speechless twice in my life. Want to hear how I managed the second time? Okay…
I was in college. My car (the one pictured above) was making a weird noise. One day, it wouldn’t start, so I called him. After he pulled out the dipstick-thing, he stared at it in disbelief for a second. Mortification filled his eyes. He double checked it, his brow furrowing. Sure enough…he found it lacking even a single droplet of oil. His lips pursed with vexation.
Through clenched teeth he asked, “Did you happen to hear a loud ticking noise?”
“Well, what did you do about it?”
“I turned up the stereo.”
He turned white, then bright red. He couldn’t speak for a full twenty seconds. By then, having recognized the look of an imminent, thunderous response and knowing it was about to rain a verbal paroxysm on my head, I moved out of the way.
I nonchalantly sat on the curb and opened my Physics 102 book—probably the first time I ever glanced between the covers, but that’s a whole other story. Looking down, I pretended to study. That didn’t stop him. He towered over me as I sat with my nose in the book doing my best to look all collegiate. What masterpiece of verbiage came from his mouth when he gathered enough self-control not to throttle me?
“You! It! Broken!” he declared as he pointed to the car with fury.
Have I mentioned that I really love my father?**
Back to writing: Once you have your character profile, you can set your MC into a situation and watch how he reacts. I know it sounds strange for me to say, “watch” what happens, but it’s called ‘organic method.’
A shy, sci-fi writer friend once asked me if I worked from an outline like he did. I said, “No. I use the organic method.” With his pale cheeks turning bright red, he gasped and said, “I get excited about my characters, too, but I wouldn’t call it orgasmic.” Ha! Smart ass that I am, I answered him, “Yeah, well, I guess I’m lucky that way.”
After he realized his mistake, it was all I could do not to throw myself down, hold my stomach and laugh myself silly, but the poor man was mortified. Had it been anyone else, I would’ve carried on in hysterics, but he was such an introvert, I didn’t want to spook the guy back into his mother’s basement. No really. Alright, technically it was a “lower level.” And he had his own entrance. From then on, he turned red whenever I asked about his outline.
Anyway…I put my MC into the situation by inserting him five minutes before or after his life changes. I watch the scene unfold in my mind as my fingers race to catch up with the maneuverings of the director/producer in my brain who plays the “movie” for me.
This sounds deceptively simple; however, it is not. Sometimes I write down what I see, but after I read it, I feel sick.
“OMG! I’m a hack! That didn’t come out right at all. That’s horrible!”
It might be because I did not ‘transcribe’ the scene properly, or the author (me) got involved and ruined the original idea the director/producer (also me) had in mind. I call that Authorus Interuptus. That’s never good. Can’t have that!
I will have to delete the whole thing and try once more to get my brain to translate “pictures” into words and words into scenes that make sense. Writers do this rewriting part of the process a lot.
Sometimes when I give the short answer to where I get my characters (The Character Profile) someone will call me on that response. They’ll ask, “But, where did you get the initial idea for the character?”
All right! I admit it! It comes from all of you. The ones I know and the ones I’ve never met. I’ll show you what I mean.
I’m writing this from the computer bar at Starbucks. (I’ll post it Wednesday, but it’s really Tuesday morning.) I set up my laptop, put on my iPod and now I’m looking around the coffee shop. (I swear I’m doing this right now and writing it as it occurs to me. So, what follows may be really bad, but you’ll see the process.)
There is always someone or something that will awaken a certain part of my brain and a new character can be born right there.
*Looking around Starbucks*
Didn’t take long. Let’s use the guy in the corner by the window. He’s eating a banana while sipping his Venti. He’s staring at the table in front of him lost in his own world. Now he checked his watch.
Ahhh…I got it. He’s waiting for his wife to leave the house because he needs to get the insurance policy out of the file cabinet. He’s had a bout of food poisoning this week (hence the banana. I mean c’mon! There are pastries here—food of the gods and he’s eating fruit?) Okay, back to Newton Rhinehold (that’s his name now because he looks like the guy from the old Fig Newton commercials.)
Newton contemplates how his life has been very odd as of late. He realizes before the food poisoning episode, last week he found the iPod port balancing on the edge of the tub when he got out of the shower. Then there was the new heavy shelf his wife hung on the wall right above his reading chair two weeks ago. “She was never interested in heavy stone sculptures before,” he thinks.
So, Newton wants to see if there have been any changes to the policy. However, he doesn’t want to alert her to his suspicion. Why? Because he’s decided to kill her first.
Yes, that’s it. He’s staring at the table in Starbucks plotting a way to get rid of her before a mahogany shelf full of granite art pieces hanging above his favorite napping chair puts him into an eternal slumber. He knows he must be quick about it. Her schemes are getting more creative as time goes on.
He’s got a sardonic grin on his face. The caffeine has kicked in and he remembers the Christmas lights are still up on the roofline. He’s wondering how he can get his silicone-enhanced wife to the top of the ladder at dusk.
Oh, look! Newton’s getting up now. It’s safe to go home because Botox Betty said she had a meeting at 10:00. Newton doesn’t know his wife left an hour earlier. Her twenty-four-year-old boy toy texted her and she’s looking forward to a quickie before her Junior League meeting. (When it’s time to create the young lover’s character profile, he might bear a striking resemblance to the kid making coffee at this very moment, but I digress…)
Now if I would’ve chosen to, I could’ve continued writing. I would’ve moved (in my caffeinated, sugared-up-from-pastry-mind) to their beautiful house by the lake. I would’ve watched as he sifted through the file cabinet.
“What’s this,” he asks himself, holding up a manila envelope.
Uh oh. Looks like Newton found something interesting in the file cabinet. Something that will make killing his wife a very bad idea at that particular time.
“That’s okay, Change of plans,” he says. Newton thinks for a moment. “How about in the mean time, she becomes…incapacitated?” He smiles, slaps the envelope into his hand and then shoves it back into the cabinet.
Ooops…Sorry, I didn’t mean to keep going. I’ll stop now.
So, dear readers, this is how I come up with a character and a story. I wrote this blog in a short time span, so it’s a rough, very rough, version of a possible tale. Should I ever choose to revisit Newton and Betty; I would embellish and embroider it into a tapestry until it became a full manuscript.
There you have it folks…the machinations of a mind that cannot stop thinking of story ideas–a very confusing and crowded place full of characters and ideas.
Is it any wonder I cannot keep my calendar straight?
Writer friends, tell me your method, please. I’d love to hear it!
If you’d like to learn more, below is a link for a very good version of character development told without any ADD moments and sudden veering off into memories of college life. Oh, how I admire the mental discipline of others.