Brewing my Characters

 In Blog

Several people have asked where my characters come from. This seems to be something that people are curious about. I suspect that all writers have their own methods for creating or meeting their characters. I brew mine!

The simplest explanation is that characters walk right into my head and demand to be written. (I know this makes me sound a little suspect!) But this is only part of the truth.

The more fulsome response is that while they do appear as fully-formed, three-dimensional people in my head, they are prompted into being by the pre-thinking and pre-planning work that I do before they decide to arrive. This includes many hours of pain-staking and meticulous research, sometimes lasting several months and occasionally even longer than that.

Let me explain using one of my stories, as an example. In The Wages of Sin you meet a chicken-farmer who drives around the country nailing up hell and damnation signs. The signs are ones I had actually seen posted around the country for years. I had seen many of these crudely done and frightening signs and began to wonder about the type of person would make and post them.

One day, it occurred to me that he was likely a farmer, and probably one who drove around the country a lot. I then decided, after some thought, and knowing that lots of farmers don’t ever like to leave their farms for very long, that he must be a chicken farmer. Having decided that key piece of information, I immersed myself in research about chicken farming and read everything I could about chickens and hatcheries and historic chicken farming operations.   Then I made a list of chicken farm duties in a particular period. After that was done, I set my notes aside and let everything just BREW without doing any more work on it.

One morning I woke up and the central character was fully formed. Everything about him was there: the look of him, his loping walk, his name, the back of his hands scarred from being pecked at. He was just there, in my head, and ready to have me write his story. So I did. It came out quickly in one long first draft and was about fifteen pages in length. I took my time editing it, and boiled it down, until finally the story was finished and ready to share.

Did I create Nels? Yes but also no. I did the research. I knew where he lived, and what he did each day, I understood his motivation, and his passion, and his disappointment. And I knew the smell of him. But all of this information just had to brew before the character was formed.

Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye states, What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up whenever you felt like it. I aspire to create characters so well brewed that you feel like you could call them up and have a conversation.

I hope this is helpful. Send me a message and let me know!