Question #1: How do you develop characters?
I usually have a general picture in mind of the character when I introduce him/her (physical appearance, general disposition), but I try to allow the growth from scene to scene with that character dictate how the character develops. I make an effort not to pre-determine too many facets of the character, so the character can surprise me and be as real as possible in the world of the story. Because of this, scenes often take crazy turns that I never saw coming. The character might develop in an unexpected manner or reveal something about his/her internal motivations that is shocking, endearing, or appalling. I picture character development like a giant pinball machine, where the characters are pinballs dropped into an environment of challenging objects which they bounce off of, becoming changed by the collisions. The objects in the pinball machine are setting, internal motivations, conflict, goals, and other perils. Once I place the characters in the pinball machine for each scene, I have no idea what kind of mess they’re going to make or how they will end up looking when the ricocheting is finished. I generally don’t outline and I try not to pre-plan scenes in too detailed of a fashion, so I am open to how the characters want to propel the scene based on their unanticipated interactions. This keeps it fresh for me and allows me to keep my hands off as much as possible, allowing the characters to tell the story without too much authorial interference. The characters are living the story, so it needs to feel organic and real.
Question #2: How do you get your story ideas?
Abstract thoughts, as well as real life experiences. I strive to be a keen observer and listener, taking constant mental notes (as well as physical notes when my Post-It notes are close by!). The seeds of scenes are planted everywhere in conversations, images observed, and feelings perceived. Any encounter has the potential for story, whether it is a movie, a song, a meal, a party, a traffic stop, or a sidewalk stroll. Story lives everywhere, so I make every attempt to keep my eyes, ears, mind, and heart open to what it wants to tell.
Question #3: How do you develop plot?
I usually have a general sense of where I think a story might go, but I’m open to the path winding in various ways. Plot is organic for me; that is not to say I don’t make copious notes about potential plot developments, character interactions, and conflicts. I simply want the story to breathe on its own, so I take my hands off its neck and give it room to inhale and exhale. This method lends itself to drafting a myriad of diverging scenes which may not end up being used, but the practice of it enables me to gain a clearer picture of the best possible path for the plot in the end. Without the practice of starting a scene and seeing where it goes, I would undoubtedly try to perfect the scene without allowing it freedom to develop fully. Everyone has his/her own writing process: some outline in detail, knowing every outcome and scene before putting pen to paper; some make no notes at all and write to see what happens; I fall somewhere in the middle. I lean, however, on the side of writing to see what happens because it is the best way to break the snare of my perfectionism and to enable my creative muscle to flex itself and show me what it can do if I just get out of the way long enough.
More to come next week! If you have any questions, opinions, or observations about the writing process, feel free to share!