Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Hey, You!

By Hannah

The blank page. Every writer seems to tackle it in a slightly different way, starting with a different story element. I love hearing about each approach. Many start with the hook or plot, an idea coming in a sudden “what if” moment. What if Donald Trump was a writing teacher, pounding down the halls at Grub Street?

For me it's not a situation. It's a character who appears out of nowhere, like a new neighbor across the fence. My last main character popped into my head, all swagger and underneath, frustration. What the heck was his problem, I wondered. He seemed to have it all. “No, no,” he’d insist. “There’s more to me.” We took a meandering path to find his story, worth it in the end because of his quirky style.

As I started to revise Mr. Swagger's tale, another character arrived, presumptuous. Brute force was required to push her back out the door. I wasn’t ready; I was busy. Part of me wanted to see if she was strong enough to come back. Oh, she was.

"Hey, you!" she said. She returned with a clear "what if," dangled it in front of me. I didn’t know if I wanted to take her on, in fact, because readers will assume Hannah-the-Writer is making a statement that Hannah-the-Person wouldn’t. “Yeah? Well, what of it?” said this character. “Hey, life hands you what it hands you, doesn’t it? Are you going get dirty, or not?”

So I’m getting dirty, trying to find the details, to recognize pieces of my character. I don’t make it up, take something and hang it on her like a new sweater. I see something and know it belongs. A VW Bug pulled up next to me a few weeks ago, driven by an angular older woman with a sharp haircut. Whomever she is in real life, I recognized her as my character’s mother. A whole backstory tumbled into place. It's coming together, and it's about time. "Hey, you," says my character, "c'mon and get to it."


Melissa Amateis said...

I love finding out details about my characters, especially when I'm writing the first draft. It opens up all sorts of possibilities!

Anonymous said...

I came across this blog and was curious, so I hope you dont mind. I'm looking for a critique partner. I belong to Chesapeake Romance writers and RWA. CRW doesnt have any free critique partners. I write fantasy romance/paranormal romance with a huge mystery in each book.....its a series with free standing books.

PLease let me know if you can help or if I can subscribe to your blog and just chat with fellow writers.

Thank you,
Heidi C. Dahlquist

Therese said...

Hannah, I'm fascinated by the differing ways writers "find" their stories.

My short fiction has always begun with character, with situation close on its heels.

Now that I've chosen a specific kind of story for my novels, situation leads characters, but only by a few hairs.

Larramie said...

Characters create the story for me, even as a reader. In fact, sometimes the story of where they come from is as fascinating as the novel's storyline that they act out.

Enjoy her, Hannah.

Anonymous said...

The characters are so much fun; still, I love those writing seminars where the instructors ask you to create some crazy scenario and then build on it. I always think I will start "next one" that way, until some new character bangs on the door before I get the chance!

Heidi -- welcome! Our blog started because our group found itself fielding a lot of questions: how we found each other, how we run our meetings, etc. We don't have a formal avenue to help find critique partners; it's a great suggestion. Do you have any groups like Boston's Grub Street to help connect you with someone locally? I know sometimes the local library and book stores around here can connect people, too. Your stories sound very intriguing. And definitely, if there is another blog reader out there in the Chesapeake area, please feel free to make the connection to Heidi, too!

Anonymous said...

I start with characters as well. They come screeching (or stomping) out of nowhere and the one that makes the most noise... well. :)
I don't always know who they are, what they are about, where they are going or what their story is, but they come alive - and refuse to go away.

@Heidi - below is the address of the online critique group I belong to. Why don't you drop a line to Haylie. We have room. :)