Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Does Your Character Speak to You?

Today, I got to have this really great conversation with a fellow writer I got to know through my writer's group, the Children's Book Writers of Los Angeles.  And of course, it motivated me to write a post about it.  Thanks, Kate!

So, we were in the middle of talking about our characters and their voices.  My writer friend had recently agreed to read and review my latest book, Wingspan, and we were chatting about how she enjoyed it.  She was quite complimentary, and I won't bore you here, but she did say that the characters were believable and she enjoyed the dialogue.

After the smile stopped threatening to break my face, I admitted something to her.  Initially, one of the man characters had a different name.  I wrote him and thought the personality was developing as I was going along.  When I would re-read the sections, there was something wrong  and I couldn't put my finger on it.  This has happened to me before and I have one sure-fired way to fix it.  I change the character's name.

Patrick, who appeared fleshed-out became Mickey.  He stopped being a skeleton. The moment I did that, I realized what was wrong with the previous name.  It's a great name, but not for him.  The problem was that when he was Patrick, I couldn't see him.  And i have to be able to "see" my babies in order to understand them.  And when I understand them, I can write them.  I can write the hell out of them.

When Patrick became Mickey, he morphed into a living, breathing person.  In my mind, it was almost as if a stick figure I had created suddenly filled out, with organs, and blood vessels, and flesh.  I could see what he looked like, how he related to others, and how he spoke.  He became the protector, the loyal friend, the sidekick for my protag. And then he became a protag himself.  With his new name, he became more than a secondary.  He was a primary.  And he demanded equal billing!

I went back and rewrote him and his dialogue.  His clipped way of speaking, the tell-you-only-what-you-need-to-know way of giving you information, it all flowed effortlessly.  All because I changed the name.

So, I wanted to share with you this little trick that helps me. Hope it helps you. And interesting side note:  when I was seven, I decided I wanted to change my name.  I love my first name now, but then, I thought it was awful.  I changed it to Jessica.  It didn't last, and I got my old name back, but I remember when I was Jessica, I had an epiphany.  As her, I could change anything and reinvent myself into anything I wanted.  The power was overwhelming and made me giddy. Maybe your characters feel that way too? *grin*

Happy writing.

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