Friday, November 02, 2012

Writing: Choosing Characters

I'm about to start writing my next novel. (Yes, I know I still have to proof the galleys for Stress Test, respond to editorial comments and get through the revisions of Heart Failure, but that's the way writing goes).

The first step for me is to populate the story. I choose the main characters and as much of the supporting cast as I can envision. Then I make up what I call a "character sheet" for each of them. Here's such a sheet for the main character in my forthcoming novel of medical suspense, Stress Test.

MATT NEWMAN—general surgeon, 5 yr in solo practice, just hired onto faculty at med school. Single; dating Jennifer Ball (below). 6’1”, swimmer’s build. Black hair with tendency to fall into eyes—later, after op, head shaved and allowed    to grow out in Jake Gyllenhaal look. Blue eyes.     
 Of course, all this can change as the novel progresses, but I need a place to start. And, in case you wonder why I chose this particular photo--look how many potential characters there are in that scene. If you're a writer, you should be taking note of the people around you. One sweatshirt I own bears this on the front: "Careful or you'll end up in my novel." If they only knew...

If you're a writer, where do you get your characters' descriptions and names? And for readers, does it help if the writer gives you a good handle on each character as they're introduced?




Wendy Paine Miller said...

I have such a blast coming up with names and letting the characters introduce themselves to me (such a writer thing to write).

It can take months for me to get a true sense of my characters and oftentimes they surprise me with little things as I write the rough draft.

I need to get a sweatshirt like that--love it!
~ Wendy

Richard Mabry said...

Thanks for your comment, Wendy. I agree that characters reveal themselves to us as a novel progresses. Matter of fact, on more than one occasion I've had to go back and revise the first part of a book because what I'd written about a character didn't reflect what I'd learned about them as the work progressed.

Erica Vetsch said...

I found my current hero by perusing photographs of Civil War Surgeons. My hero, Elliot Ryder, is based upon Dr. J. W. Brewer, who actually served at Ft. Larned, the setting of my story.

I like to have templates, photographs to work from.

Richard Mabry said...

Erica, I looked for photos for my earlier protagonists, but lately have been able to form mental images that serve me pretty well. However, whatever works...
Thanks for dropping by and commenting.