In case you think you missed part 1, it's not here -- it's on Lucy Monroe's blog which I've linked to below.
But it came in response to something I was thinking about after I just answered an email this morning about how to find "experts" to talk to when doing research. I spent a happy half hour remembering all the great people who have taken time out of their busy schedules to talk to me. What I learned from them gave me such a better handle on the book (whichever book it was) and the characters and led me to write scenes and details that I never could have come up with on my own.
Details make the difference -- both to readers and to writers. If the details are wrong, then the necessary suspension of disbelief doesn't happen. The reader who knows more about a topic than the writer and who finds significant errors is likely to throw a book across the room rather than enjoy it. And the chances of her ever picking up a book by that author again are negligible. Writers need details to make books believable both for readers and for themselves.
I often start out thinking of details as the hangers on which my story hangs. They give it support. They hold it up. But to be honest, by the time I get done, the details aren't so much hangers as fully developed characters who have had life breathed into them by the details of their existence. And the story rides on their shoulders from beginning to end.
This morning, too, I wrote a similiarly title entry for Lucy Monroe's Blog Party
(y'all come!) which she's having on her site. I'll be dropping in there again this week -- and I hope some of you will come along as well. Lots of interesting comments and blogs and some great prizes. Stop by.
Writing both the letter and the blog entry made me stop and think about getting to know characters and their backgrounds. It's the same sort of stopping and thinking I did when I wrote my entry here about the Brazilian film, Possible Loves
(Amores Possiveis). It's all very much a "which came first, the chicken or the egg?" issue. In fact, the characters, setting, and details of both combine inextricably to create a story that, given even a small change, would lead to a far different end result.
That's where consistency is important. If characters do not behave in a consistent fashion, if their actions do not proceed from motivations that can easily be understood as being part of who that character is, then the story won't work. That's the hardest -- and most interesting -- part of writing: getting a deep enough understanding of the character in question (are you listening, Spence?) so that you, as the writer, know instinctively how he would behave, what he would do, what would matter to him, what details would be important and reflective of his personality and who he is.
Characters are as distinct as "real people." And, to writers at least, they are as interesting. Discovering what makes them tick is what gets me to the keyboard every morning. And when they don't give up their secrets easily, it's hard work trying to crack their minds. But I wouldn't trade it for the world. I love these characters. I love the tiny details that make them real for me -- and ultimately, I hope, for you.
I asked readers at Lucy's blog to tell me what life they would like to try out that they've never had a chance to live -- or what occupation or other interest that is outside of their current frame of reference. I'll do the same here. Writing has brought me a chance to discover what life is like for a high-fashion hair stylist, an orthopedic surgeon, a baseball umpire, a rodeo cowboy, a charter airplane pilot, an archaeologist, a soccer goalkeeper, a photographer, a bull riding instructor, a movie star, a lifeguard, a wildlife biologist, and lots of other people I will never get to trade places with except in my books. Through them I've lived on Wyoming ranches, New York hi-rises, Southern Cal beachfront properties, Caribbean islands and Devon estates. I've built 11-ton sandcastles, restored Victorian mansions, run a bed-and-breakfast, rescued a business from disaster, been a naval architect, a nanny, a cross-eyed librarian, a 19th century trail drover, and a famous artist.
It's been a wild wonderful ride. So, what would you like to do or learn about -- for yourself or your characters?