|One of Ann's book clubs!|
That bonding with characters doesn’t happen without some work. I just turned in my third Rosey Corner book, Love Comes Home. That novel followed up my characters in Angel Sister and Small Town Girl. So for it, I didn’t have to come up with an entirely new set of characters. I did bring new faces into the story, but I also knew many of the characters like my closest family after writing two other books with them. I was thrilled they let me move in with them while I discovered the rest of their story.
Now I’m on to a new book with characters I’m only just meeting. So how do these characters I’m going to be living with for the next few months come to life in my mind? The Bible says man was formed from the dust of the earth. Characters are formed from the dust of a writer’s mind. Every person I’ve ever met, every character I’ve ever read about or seen in a movie or on TV, every person I can imagine, all those are stored somewhere in my mind. When it’s time to create that new character, I take a pinch of this and a dollop of that from the glimmering treasure trove in my head until the person I’m looking for begins to form before my writer’s eye.
Sometimes it’s a slow process of one brick of character piling on another brick. Other times, a character springs to life as soon as I think of her name. Lacey in The Blessed was that kind of gift. I had intended her to be a minor character in my third Shaker book, The Seeker, but as soon as I named her, she informed me she had a story of her own that would be wasted if she just got a few paragraphs in a minor role.
Most of my main characters are not like Lacey. Most have to be developed. I’ve given talks where I let the audience participate in building a character by brainstorming the answers to a few basic questions. Is the character male or female? How old are they? Third question – name? You can’t really name a character until you know the answers to the first two questions. Nationality and historic era make a difference with names too. Once we agree on a name, then we go on to whether the person is married, has children, what kind of work they do, whether they live in the city or country, etc. My audience always has great fun doing this character exercise and are often shocked at how an imagined person can so quickly come to life in their thoughts as we answer those few questions. By the end of our little exercise, I sometimes have to referee as many of the participants are ready to fight for their image of the character to be the person for our story.
We don’t write the story, but if we did, what each person wrote would be completely different from all the other stories. That’s because in the process of coming up with a story, they would have to answer many more questions about the character. One, what do they look like? But even more important, why do they do the things they do? I generally write a brief paragraph about my character’s appearance–eyes, hair color, features, height, build–general things that I need to remember. I let those images float around in my head to try to see my character, but even more important than how the character looks is how he or she thinks. That’s because I’m going to pitch them into some situations. In Words Spoken True, I dropped Adriane down in the middle of a very volatile summer in Louisville’s history, and then piled even more trouble on her. In my coming book, Christmas at Harmony Hill, Heather is faced with one challenge after another as she awaits the birth of her baby in this Civil War era Christmas story.
So why do I let these things happen to my characters? Because life happens to people and I’m writing about people. I name them and put them in their time and place, but then the story takes over. Without my characters facing conflicts and hardships, I wouldn’t have much of a story. Readers love fiction because of the people, but they want those people to overcome challenges as they chase after their dreams.
Readers also want to know what happens next. Those happenings might make us smile or perhaps weep or even be nervous as we hurry through the pages. But we want to live the story with the characters and believe they would really do the things they do in the book. So that’s why I set my characters down on the road of life and “let” things happen to them.
When you read fiction, do you invite the characters into your heart and mind and live the story with them? Do you ever wonder what happens to them after you read the last page?
ANN H. GABHART, the author of several bestselling novels, has been called a storyteller, not a bad thing for somebody who never wanted to do anything but write down stories. She’s published twenty-five novels with more stories on the way. She keeps her keyboard warm out on a farm in Kentucky where she lives with her husband, Darrell. They have three children, three in-law children, and nine grandchildren. To find out more about Ann or her books visit www.annhgabhart.com. Check out her blog, One Writer’s Journal,
www.annhgabhart.blogspot.com or follow her on Facebook, www.facebook.com/AnnGabhart , Twitter, https://twitter.com/AnnHGabhart , or Pinterest, http://pinterest.com/annhgabhart/.
Ann has generously offered to giveaway a copy of Small Town Girl, her July release from Revell to two Villagers who leave a comment. Winner announced in the Weekend Edition.
The Merritts of Rosey Corner, Ky., are back. Evangeline is marrying Pastor Mike, and the family could not be happier — except for Kate, who has loved Pastor Mike since she was 15. Birdie is smitten with Mike’s best man, Jay Tanner, but he seems interested in Kate. The joy of the wedding lingers until the bombing of Pearl Harbor, when the war begins and the young men must leave loved ones behind and go defend their country. Will Kate send away her only chance at dancing in the Rosey Corner moonlight?