Conversations about Writing is a bi-monthly feature starring authors Shōn Bacon (editing guru) and Miki Starr Martin (graphic design guru) who share their thoughts on writing and their reviews on books!
Miki Starr Martin [website]
For the premiere rap session of CAW, Shōn and Miki Starr in their freestyle conversational style, talk about what makes a “good” book and begin a discussion on character!
SB: A “good book” is pretty subjective. There’s no one type of a good book, but I believe that that there are “objective” components that are necessary to make a good book like strong characters, great action and dialogue, tight conflict, etc.
MSS: Not only that but a clear understanding on the part of the author is just as important to constructing a good book. An author with no true connection to the characters and the world which the author has created will read like formula fiction. Being that what makes a book “good” is indeed subjective, it’s that connection and commitment that makes a good story great.
SB: I really like that response, Miki, and I totally agree. Author’s connection with the project is vital. How do you, as an author, find those connections with the story and the characters?
MSS: I become the characters. They are not external beings for me. I am not an observer writing the things that I see. It’s like acting. An actor/actress becomes the part that they are playing and so it becomes real for them. The emotions, the reactions, gestures…in the moment of telling the story, it IS my reality.
What is your recommended approach to the creation of characters?
SB: I dig that; I always have something that connects me to the characters. As far as approaching the creation of characters, I work on character dossiers. I create a folder for each character, and in that folder I have images of what the character looks like, the car he or she drives, the house the character lives in, siblings, parents, etc. I write up a dossier in which I look at things like where the character was JUST before the start of the story, fears, joys, memorable moments, morals, convictions, etc. Now these things I always do when I start a project in organization mode, meaning, when I set out to develop the work and its outline before writing. When the urge hits me to start writing the story without the dossiers, I oftentimes find myself coming BACK to develop the dossiers and get more inside the characters. How about you?
MSS: Wow… that’s really cool. I can’t say I’m quite THAT organized. I do create a file of sorts but mine could fit in one small folder! I make notes of things such as their full name, age, siblings, what sort of home they were raised in, some morals and convictions. I also like to write out where the characters were before the story began but I can’t say I ever really stick with what’s there.
It doesn’t work for me to be too specific because the characters will not come to life until I write. At that point it’s irrelevant who I wanted them to be, they are going to take shape how they see fit. Names change, descriptions altar, personalities shift. Fully formed characters appear who I had no idea even existed in my main character’s life. It’s almost as though they are real and are somewhere close by whispering their truths to me and my job is simply to record it. When I think back it’s funny to me how little control I actually have over these so-called characters. None of them are who they were designed to be in my notes.
I assume this is true to some degree for every writer.
I do find that research is crucial in telling a good story. Even the smallest detail is Googled for accuracy. Laws, names of cities, cultural references…or dress styles, colors, movies. The more real everything is for me, the more it will feel real for the reader. If I don’t believe it why should I think anyone else will.
How much does research play a role in your writing?
SB: You know, I do want to make one comment. Robert McKee, in his awesome book, STORY, makes a comment about this “moment” for writers, the moment in which characters unleash themselves and we as writers have NO control over it. He claims we DO have control; we may not fully know where characters are going as we sit before the page, but we do control whether the story continues, whether characters go where they go in the story. I prefer to believe McKee, LOL It takes away that “magic” writers think exist when they come to the page, but it gives them back their “mastering” of writing a good story.
NOW, having said that, lol, to answer your question, I don’t do a lot of research unless absolutely necessary. If I’m doing a story on a subject I’m not too familiar with, then I do major research, but mostly, I do “life” research. I examine people – at grocery stores, in parking lots, in the drive thru, at the cafe – I read a lot of non-fiction to get people’s depictions of their lives; I try to get more from real life as possible.
Come back in August when Shōn and Miki Starr continue their discussion on character and also review the book Make You Mine by Niobia Bryant!