“It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.” – William Faulkner
People are always curious about where my characters come from. I suspect some of them are worried they might see themselves. People are not unique and often share both good and bad traits. We often see these traits mirrored for us in the books we read without them having been stolen from us. We are drawn to characters like us and are often put off by those who are not.
Desmond Sheerin in MacCullough’s Women shares similar traits with other elderly Irish-American gentlemen I have known including my own grandfather. But Desmond is not Pa, although Pa could play the piano like Desmond.
There are a few new characters showing up in Maggie’s Girls. This is what it is like to “trot along behind” one of them.
Cookie Kennedy was Franny’s college roommate. The reader first meets her in Francesca’s Foundlings. Cookie needed a significant other. She’s a wonderful person and really deserves to be appreciated and she’s lonely– her character is based on nobody I know, in case you’re wondering. It’s about time the right man crosses her path. Jake Kellan stood up to be that guy.
Organized writers, like my friend Sue, begin with a character sheet. And I do applaud them. Goggle character sheets and you will come up with a number of options, ranging from the simple to the complex. One example I saw was nine pages of questions be filled out for each character. Had I answered all the questions asked, I would have had a document stretching to close to five times as many pages as the original template. That’s right, for each character.
I am a “pantser” meaning that I write by “the seat of my pants.” I don’t know if Mr. Faulkner was,too, but he describes the way one writes – as he would– beautifully. I “trot along behind” the character madly typing as we go. An example of this would be that I had no idea Brendan Feeney’s college roommate had an Italian grandmother until I found him making her “gravy” recipe one night in Franny’s kitchen. That’s the kind of information you would find on a character sheet, if I had created one.
Here’s Jake talking to Cookie on their first date in the current draft of Maggie’s Girls:
For the first time, Jake seemed uncomfortable, almost guarded. “Well, I’m a pretty boring guy. No Made-for-TV movies in my past.” Cookie just smiled and said nothing.
“Fine. I can see this is the only way I can get back to the aunts.” He took a sip of his scotch, appearing to gather his thoughts. “Well, here are the basics I imagine most women want to know: I am forty years old, not married, have never been married, no children. And yes, I like girls. I was born here in Manchester. I have a younger brother and sister. My brother lives in Manhattan. My sister lives in Bedford. I have three nieces and a nephew. My mother still lives in the house where I grew up. My father owned his own company here. He died last spring.
I know. Boring, right? Except that Jake has a couple of definitely NOT boring twists in his past. I think he may be one of those characters interested in dragging me into writing a sex scene, too.
You’ll just have to read the book to find out.
Can’t wait, Kathy. You really have my imagination running wild. What is in Jake’s background?????????
You always tell a good story, Kathleen, even when the story is about how the characters in your stories are born and grow!