Creating interesting characters is very important to a story. The character has to be someone that you, as a writer, understand on an interior level. You know what he will do and what he won’t do. That character has to be someone that the reader also wants to follow and to spend some time with, and is in many ways the key to keeping people turning the page.
So how do we go about that?
I open my double door pantry and start going through the shelves… hmmm, a can of this, a can of that…how about some of these spices on the door?
What on earth am I talking about? Well, let me tell you a little more.
I spend a lot of time observing people, even speaking in their accent if they speak unusually to my ears, (of course not to their face). I guess in a way I act out who I perceive that they are. Of course this representation is I myself living in a different circumstance, in perhaps a different culture, and taking on mannerisms of that life.
I ask God to show this to me as well. I ask how would he (the character) do this or do that? What would he chose? What is next thing that might happen? Does that feel right, does this feel right? And then I wait until I have the answer.
I also research and ask questions of people; how do they do the things that they do, the jobs that they have, or things that they enjoy. A person spends a lot of time each day at their work, they love it, they hate it; but they grow in it, and it changes them because they are interacting with other people; and often not people who would necessarily be friend choices. Watching people at work tells you a lot about them. You see personality manifested through their actions. As an illustrator, my job is showing the reader what is happening. That is a writer’s job is as well. You want to show a lot about your characters through the way they move through their day or through a problem.
I am working on a young adult novel. It has been a long term project; in fact, I have been working on it now for over five years. I have tried to create a character of a mixed cultural background deriving the personality of Isaac, the principle character, from the Hispanic people of Northern New Mexico, with whom I have lived as neighbors and friends for many years. I also wanted to combine his personality with things I have read in Orthodox writings, wanting him to come from a background that has partly Orthodox roots. I went so far as to create a history for Isaac’s grandfather as well, who, though not actively met within the book, has a major impact on the central character’s consciousness and responses, and whose influence has greatly formed his character.
This is a road trip story, so I took the road trip. I know where my character is going, what these places look like, and how he will feel about those places before he gets there.
That kind of “story” gathering is an important part of the pantry that provides food for a book and the representation of its characters who are not only good to write about but also good to read about. With this method the adage, “Write what you know,” is played out to the hilt.
A fine artist and children’s book writer and illustrator, Claire received a BFA in art and education from the University of New Mexico. Working in a variety of different art forms for over thirty years, she has shown her work in galleries and museums and has received numerous awards. You can learn more about her published work at www.clairebrandenburg.com. Claire is married. She and her husband have two grown children. Beside her work for Children’s Books and illustration, Claire is involved in the recording of Orthodox books and teachings on CD. Claire blogs at http://clairebrandenburg.blogspot.com and can also be found on Twitter and Facebook. If you visit her Facebook page, you’ll notice a link to Heavenly Ladder, a bookstore that was founded as part of an effort to establish an Orthodox Church in Taos, New Mexico. Check out the Heavenly Ladder “Travel” link to learn about tours and pilgrimages to Orthodox holy places.