The Heart Of The Matter

A brief disclaimer: I’m still fiddling with my new template, so if you notice your comments showing up where my header should be or vice versa, please be patient.  With any luck I’ll get this all straightened out in a day or two.  Next time I’ll have better sense than to choose a template where some of the code is written in Italian!

As I mentioned recently, I’m just jumping into the first few chapters of my first-draft WIP.  Thus and expectedly, beside working hard to spell all the words properly and deploying my punctuation with both great accuracy and great verve (!?….:;), I am also devoting considerable brain power to the characterization process.

Part of our job as writers, in my opinion, is to put hearts in our characters. Each character’s heart is made up of a plethora of details and behaviors, some of which make it to the page and some of which simply influence how the writer “hears” the character. Choosing the proper details can be one of the most critical steps in the writing process.

At the moment, I am still getting to know my WIP characters.  We’re chatting, getting shot at together (the setting is a warzone), having a cup of coffee together (tried to include a Starbucks but it seemed out of place); we’re just starting to settle into a warm mutually beneficial writer-character relationship.  They haven’t yet figured out that it is I who sends them off to do all these dreadful things, so progress is good.

Back in college, one of my fav professors used to talk about the value of observing behavior in real life as a guide to getting your characters to act more believably on the page.  In one writing exercise, he sent us out into the world to write down snippets of conversation we heard or overheard (or underheard I suppose).  The whole process provided great fodder for learning to observe more closely how human beings interact, and also for beginning to frame in one’s mind how best to convey those happenings–how to separate the wheat from the chaff (or chaff from chaff as the case may be).

As a result, as I get to know my WIP guys, I am considering my recent experience in Baghdad, but also looking at photos, reading about war experiences online and in books, and also observing the interactions of those around me.  So far, all of these have been fairly fertile ground, and I’m happy with where things are headed.

How ’bout you?  How do you go about putting hearts in your characters?  Other than observing “real life”, what process(es) do you use to put the pieces of your characters together?  How do you ensure that the different characters in your story create conflict?  What is the most difficult part of characterization?