Hey, everyone, real quick I’d like to intro a cyber friend of mine Terry Odell who I had the pleasure of meeting last year at RT. She has most graciously accepted my invite to blog here at The Write Life today. So, heeeeeerrrrrzzzzzzzzz—Terry!
Thanks, Karin, for inviting me to “The Write Life” today. I’m excited to be here, and I’d love to chat with your readers. I’m talking about characters today, and how they come to life for me.
When I am pulled into a book, it’s because of the characters. I’d go so far as to say it’s 80% characters and 20% story for me. Obviously, when I write, I want to create characters my readers will remember. I’m not a plotter—I have only the barest idea of a story before I start writing. Even if the seed of my idea was a storyline, or a scene (or even a line of dialogue—heck, anything will trigger a story!), I need the character before things can move very far forward. Although I’m supposed to be in control, there are times when the characters introduce themselves as much as I’m trying to create them.
I know some writers fill out long, involved character history sheets before the write word one. I can’t do that. What if something happens during the story and my character background doesn’t work? Change the character or change the plot? I do like to know about my characters, but I’m more of a “what would make someone do that kind of a writer. Why do they have the job they do? Are they happy? If not, what job would they rather have? Why would a woman agree to give a ride to a man they’ve just met? As the story grows, so do my characters.
When I started writing FINDING SARAH, all I knew about Randy was that he was a cop who saw everything in black and white. I had no idea he was also an accomplished pianist until more than halfway through the book. Yet when he insisted on sitting down at his grandmother’s piano after a miserable day, I listened. In going back through the manuscript, I discovered that I had to delete exactly one line in order to keep things in character for him. For that book, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Pathetique” seemed to guide the characters.
Blake, in WHAT’S IN A NAME? came to me almost full-blown when I was listening to Dan Fogelberg’s “Leader of the Band.” The line, “Papa I don’t think I love you near enough” defined his character, and any time I needed to know what he would do, I could listen to that song.
Another instance came about when I heard “Take it to the Limit” by the Eagles. It was slow, dreamy, and I knew that I had to write a scene where my characters danced to it (since no way was my husband going to do it). It wasn’t the lyrics, but the mood the melody invoked. Sure enough, I had Ryan and Frankie meet while dancing to that song in WHEN DANGER CALLS.
In other cases, it’s food that clicks the characters for me. I like to know what they eat, if they cook, and their favorite foods. In one of my early short stories, Pasta Puttanesca was a major story ingredient.
In WHAT’S IN A NAME? Blake doesn’t cook. He can make coffee, but that’s about it. So he’s delighted to eat a meal prepared by Kelli, the heroine. Later in the book, he connects with Kelli by trying to cook that same recipe, and by baking chocolate chip cookies, which evoke poignant memories of his childhood.
Single-mother Frankie cooks to a degree, but her cooking prowess stops at the kid-food level. She makes things like macaroni and cheese, happy-face pancakes, or tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches. But this comfort food ends up helping Ryan face the death of his mother.
In my upcoming July release, NOWHERE TO HIDE, instead of making music, Graham cooked. Here I had this macho deputy sheriff, who worked on his Harley during his time off, but when he sat down and picked up the magazines on his coffee table, he read a salmon recipe in Gourmet Magazine. When he was stressed, he made Moussaka. He let me in on his secret a little earlier than Randy had, but he was definitely a closet chef. I admit I had to call upon my brother’s expertise as a pastry chef when Graham tried to make pancakes but Colleen didn’t have baking powder.
What sorts of things inspire you? Are you more of a character person or a story person?
Thanks again to Karin for having me at The Write Life today. You can find more about me at my website, http://www.terryodell.com where I have a special “Behind the Scenes” section where you can see what other things inspired my writing. You can also fine me at my blog, “Terry’s Place” http://terryodell.blogspot.com. I posted my personal writing playlist there at http://terryodell.blogspot.com/2010/01/sounds-of-inspiration.html
Thank you for being my guest today, Terry!