Friday, July 28, 2006
In Storyteller, Kate Wilhelm says that: “Real people can’t survive in a vacuum.” She’s referring to the fact that characters have to “live” somewhere, at some time, with some one. She’s absolutely correct. Even “The Man with No Name,” played by Clint Eastwood in Spaghetti westerns such as A Fistful of Dollars and A Few Dollars More, lived in a place and time (The Mythical American West), and interacted with others (Lee Van Cleef’s character for one.)
I know that to answer such questions about their characters, some writers make up biographies, or at least do character sketches, before they ever start writing. I tend not to do that. Rather, I like discovering the character as I write. I often construct a character sketch later, especially if I think I might use that individual again. My way probably takes more time if anything, but I like the fluidity of it. At least for me, when I flesh out a character they tend to become very real for me. And that means I can’t easily change something about a fleshed out character even if it might make the story better. Even names become part of the character, and I find myself unable to change them without some mental gymnastics on my part. I’ve actually written stories using one character name, then used global search and replace to exchange that name for another that will appear in the published story. You may ask why. Well, I’d created two very different characters named Kainja. One had already appeared in published stories when I wrote a piece about the second one. I didn’t want to confuse my readers, but I found it difficult to use a different name for Kainja while I was writing the new tale. I just wrote the character as Kainja to make my job easier, then did search and replace to fix the problem for any potential readers.