Wicked Wednesday – Character Surprises, Part I

Hey, readers! It’s August, and we’re talking characters this month. Getting into other people’s heads is our job, and it can be an unpredictable one. Some writers say their characters completely surprise them in the course of writing a book. Others say it’s their world, and their characters know to fall in line. So Wickeds, what do you think? Can characters surprise you? And if the answer is yes, next week we’ll talk about some of those surprises….

Barb: Stephen King says characters reveal themselves like photographs in developing solution–they get sharper, clearer, show depth and contrast, as you write. Certainly I know more about all my characters at the end of a first draft than I do at the beginning. Often I am learning during subsequent drafts as well. These aren’t surprises per se, because they’re organic to the character, but I often say to myself, “Oh, that’s why you behave that way,” or think that, or feel that. With series characters I think of it as finding out new things about old friends. The example I always use is a friend you’ve known for years who one day, out of blue says, “It was like that time I went on a date with Paul McCartney.” And you’re screaming, “Oh my gosh, HOW COULD I NOT KNOW THAT ABOUT YOU?” And your friend is all, “What? Nothing ever came of it. It’s never come up. You mean I never mentioned it?” That happens with series characters a lot.

Edith: I love being surprised by any aspect of my writing, and especially by my characters.  I’m working on a synopsis for a new piece and I thought I knew a new character – possibly the murderer – until she showed me a bruise on her arm and I realized her husband has been abusing her. Whoa! Puts a whole different slant on the story. Working twenty years ago on what ended up being A Tine to Live, a Tine to Die, my protag was at a dinner party. All of a sudden a woman fell off her chair unconscious onto the floor. I stared at her and wondered why. Heart attack? Stroke? Poison dart to the neck? Poison in her martini? I had to keep writing to find out.

Jessie: I am frequently surprised by the characters in my books and am always tickled pink when I look at the screen in front of me in astonishment. I think it may be a byproduct of flow state where creation feels effortless and thus surprisingly outside oneself but I’m happy to experience it whatever the cause. I outline my books, scene by scene and you would think that would eliminate such surprises but it doesn’t in the least. I may have planned to put Beryl and Edwina in a motorcar chatting about a suspect but I hadn’t planned on Beryl suddenly mentioning that she spent considerable time before the war in Russia or that Edwina has a penchant for western novels.

Sherry: I can’t imagine not being surprised by my characters. I know them, but I continue to discover more about them even as I’m writing the eighth book in the Sarah Winston Garage Sale mysteries. I’ve read about people who do detailed bios or interviews with their characters before they start writing. The concept intrigues me, but I’ve yet to do it.

Julie: When I first started writing, I kept getting the advice to do deep research on your character before you start, so I tried that. And then I’d get upset when they surprised me. Part of the magic of writing are the surprises, and for me they are usually character driven. I’m also finding characters surprise me from book to book, but I’ll save that story for next week.

Readers: Have you been surprised by any characters in your favorite series? Who and why? Leave us a comment below.

Organic Growing, Organic Writing

Edith here, delighted to have ‘Til Dirt Do Us Part – my second Local Foods mystery – out and available! And huge thanks to the Wickeds and so many other fans for helping me celebrate all week.

My protagonist in the Local Foods mysteries, Cam Flaherty, is an organic farmer. She’s working hard to get her new farm certified, and has to confront several challenges to that certifiedorganicgoal.

As you might know by now, I was a certified-organic farmer myself twenty years ago, and I’m an organic gardener now. I also, for the most part, write organically. But what does writing organically mean?

Some mystery writers plot out their stories in advance. They write outlines, create spreadsheets and timelines, produce detailed synopses. Others start with a few headlightscharacters, possibly an idea for the crime, an inkling of the villain, a vision of the victim. Then they follow these people around and write down what they do. This has been called writing by the seat of your pants. Writing organically. Writing into the headlights. Writing organically.

My path of least resistance is to write organically, although these days my editor requires me to turn in a synopsis of the next book before I write it.

So how does writing organically compare with growing organically? When I garden, I set compost-pile-curing01-lgup the best soil I can. I add lots and lots of organic matter: compost, wood ash, decomposed leaves, seaweed, whatever I can find. I work the soil only when it is dry, so it doesn’t destroy the natural structure of air and particles under the surface. I either raise my own seedlings or or buy them from a local farm, and plant only organically raised seeds. I water my baby plants only when they’re dry and always when they’re dry. And then I follow my plants as they grow. I prune off unnecessary suckers on the tomato vines. 2011-04-02 22.28.33I harvest the best cucumbers and Asian eggplants and put anything that’s damaged or diseased in the compost. I cut a dinner’s worth of salad, knowing the mizuna, arugula, and baby lettuces will regenerate for another night’s meal.

Same with writing. I prepare myself by taking online courses, studying excellent writing, reading constantly. I create my writing IMG_2925space, both physical and mental, so I’m ready for unimpeded creativity. I churn out a first draft, bringing myself back to the garden of my story over and over again. And then I prune. I weed. I train the vines of my scenes so they work, so the plot is at once complete, fair to the reader, and also a guessing game. I up the suspense, enrich the characters’ motivations and secrets, and also leave a few things unsaid for the dinner in the next book in the series.

Or at least that’s my goal, both in the garden and in the book.

What’s your gardening method? Your writing method? Is there any parallel with reading?