Character Development

An interesting post by author Mark Billingham on how he never really knows where his character (a London detective in a series) is going until he gets there.

I totally agree with him. I know authors who plan out the story arc for their series ahead of time, keep detailed diaries/notes about their characters’ likes and dislikes and know exactly where they’re going in each book. I confess: I am not one of them.

I know a lot of my characters’ backstories but their futures are as much of a mystery to me as my own. I can’t predict what will happen in my life tomorrow much less in two years: how can I predict theirs?

I can make certain assumptions, for sure. But I have this feeling that when I put down my pen, the characters in my books keep interacting, talking, moving, growing … each time I’ve picked it up again, they’ve surprised me with who they’ve become.

Most of us can predict the past; the future is a whole lot more difficult. I’ve set my series a few years back, so that I can rely on real events that have transpired in Cuba as the backdrop to the challenges they face. But as how my characters choose to respond to these, each book (for them and me) is a new story.

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3 Responses to Character Development

  1. I’m with you. I want to write the next book to find out what they’ve been doing. Even as I write, the current one, the characters begin agitating in my mind, and starting to tell me what they’re up to.


  2. Anne Devereux says:

    I’m struggling with this as we speak. I’ve always been a pantser, and wondered if that was why when I ventured from the safe world of the short story & novella to the longer, more complex, plotty-mcplot world of the novel, I found myself with a tangled mess of plot threads around my ankles. In trying to turn myself into a plotter for my new novel, I’m finding that it’s just not working for me; on the contrary, it’s slowing down my output and tying my muse up in all sorts of knots.

    When I go back and re-read my short stories, even my novellas, I find that even though I didn’t know what was going to happen in the end, even though the next sentence was a mystery to me, somehow the story got written, with a beginning, a middle and an end, with believable characters and a story arc and yes, a plot, and sometimes even a subplot, and it all made sense.

    So instead of agonizing over my plot schematic, I think I’m going back to writing by instinct.

    What say you?


    • Peggy Blair says:

      I’m definitely an instinctive writer. I do the ‘plotting schematic’ after I’m well into the story: I sit down with a calendar, sometimes a day-planner, because my action all takes place (in all three books) within the space of a week and I have to sort of visually figure out where everybody is at any given time and what they’re doing. But I can’t plan it out ahead of time — these characters have minds of their own! I usually know what ending I want, and the beginning, but everything inbetween is up for grabs.


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