I love it when characters start developing right in front of me as I write them. I’ve been working on the Michael Lodestone urban-fantasy, pulp novella, and I’ve been stuck on a few plot points. I used to let getting stuck in plot issues mire my writing for days, until a few years ago when I just started “writing through them” to keep momentum going with the story. Now when I come to a part in unsure about, I use brackets to indicate what I still need to add in so I can keep going with the scene and at least develop dialogue between the characters and few action scenes. It will look something like this:
Jack and Jill went up the hill. [Not quite sure why they are going up the hill yet. Need to figure out their motivation later.]
This little trick helps me continue writing action and dialogue that I know will happen and keeps the story going. Usually, I find that the plot figures itself out as I write.
Characters also show themselves to me during this time as well, especially since I tend to focus on them when I get stuck on plot. Yesterday, I made some lovely discoveries about two of my characters.
Michael Lodestone: Michael is my centuries-old, immortal wizard on a quest to hunt down and kill the evil immortal witches and wizards bringing havoc on the world. (Lots of backstory I don’t have time to explain here.) He’s great at fighting magical people but lousy at relating to humans because he’s been around for over 500 years, which will make anyone a little gruff. I’ve been looking for a way to humanize him–to flesh out his character and bring in a few qualities that make him a person instead of just “every hero.”
Yesterday while I was writing a scene that takes place at Cafe DuMonde, I discovered that he has a special passion for beignets (and some kind of caffeinated beverage that he drinks constantly because he won’t allow himself to drink alcohol. You can imagine that drinking and magical powers might it mix well.). It’s not much, but it’s something that makes him more relatable.
JT Scott: JT is Michael’s behind-the-scenes internet guy. He’s usually on a computer looking things up while Michael does his work. (Kind of like Tom Arnold’s character in True Lies.) His real name is Julius, so Michael calls him Caesar. They have a seriously juiced-up van (with anti-magic weapons and loads of tech equipment) that they take with them everywhere. JT is fun, but I’m still wading through my second draft and he is a little flat. Yesterday, I figured out two things about him. First, he is definitely passionate about the van. It is his baby. He keeps it in pristine condition to an obsessive level. This will help me create a little more comic relief during action scenes. Second, he is not good under pressure. It gives him a weakness I can exploit during this story and fire stories as well.
With both of these character discoveries, I didn’t say to myself, “Why don’t I make JT love the van…?” It just kind of…happened as I wrote. It’s hard to explain. Sometimes, characters just develop right before your eyes.
The only way to make these kinds of discoveries is to write. Even if you are writing through a part with a massive plot hole you can’t figure out, just write. I am still stuck on a few issues with this chapter, but two of my characters just became richer and gave me a starting point for more material and dialogue.
How about you? Have you ever had a character reveal himself to you as you were writing a scene about him or her?