Ah, the appearance of Meander. This chapter hardly changed during the course of the revision process, largely because it contained two things that had to happen for the plot to get going: Buttersby had to get alpacanapped, and she had to meet Meander. Actually, there are hints in this chapter that point to why Buttersby and Meander are getting alpacanapped, and originally, this all would have come up later in the course of the book. However, since I decided to just do the first part of that book as a standalone, these are hints that won’t entirely make sense until later on in the series. I just bring it up now as a way to show that I do in fact know why Buttersby is taken from America to Peru. But I can’t tell you that now without ruining some later twists and turns, should I ever be able to write the sequels.
I’ve always liked Meander as a character. When Gwen first told me about her idea for the book (which, in case you’ve skipped some annotations, was essentially two character sketches, one for Buttersby and one for Meander), I immediately liked Meander more. He’s more the kind of character that I usually write about. Buttersby was going to need to grow and become likable as a character, but Meander could be likable right away. As soon as he appeared in the narrative, I knew who he was and how he would behave.
This actually brings up an interesting question: where do characters come from, and how can you draw them well? My response to this question represents what I think about it right now, and I realize that what I say may seem off to many. Perhaps I’ll even come to disagree with it myself, but it’s how I view it now. I don’t think writing a good character is all that difficult, really. Or at least it doesn’t seem to be to me. I know there are writers out there who devote pages and pages to defining who their characters are, right down to what their favorite foods are or where they went to school in second grade, and maybe this helps those authors. I don’t think it would help me. The biggest step in writing a good character (for me) is being able to get inside that character’s head. It’s the ability to look at the world through a different lens and not let your own opinions and views muddy it up that much. You have to understand what a character wants in a scene or a story, and then let that character act and speak accordingly. That’s probably what the goal is of all those pages of back history other authors write about their characters.
Once you can do that, the only thing left to do is to give the character a few defining quirks or characteristics–things that are unique to him or her. In Meander’s case, this would be his inexplicable ability to do anything and everything with relative ease. He’s constantly upbeat, no matter what’s going wrong around him. And he says “Howdy” when he meets people.
That’s it. From those two steps, I make most of my characters. In fact, I usually don’t do it all that consciously, either. Once a character appears in a scene for the first time, I start to get to know him or her as a person. By the end of the book, I know him or her well enough that they’re now a character. Then, I go back to the beginning of the novel and make sure that that character is consistent throughout.
I’m sure that there must be a better, more refined way of creating characters. The simplicity of how I described it is probably making countless author cringe. And as I look at it, I think I’ve oversimplified step one. It’s sort of like telling a person how to make a watch by saying, “First, put all the gears into place. Then wind it. Done.” Sure, it generally describes the process, but it leaves out everything that’s really important.
I don’t know . . . this commentary has gotten far off course, and I’m not sure if I’m making any sense at this point anyway. I think the bottom line for me is that I enjoy trying to see things from different viewpoints. That’s why I liked trying to figure out an alpaca world view, and that’s why I can get to know my characters as I write them. For any aspiring writers out there, my advice would be to write and read. Write write write. Read read read. The more time you spend on your first book trying to perfect all the characters and settings and plot twists, the more time you’re wasting, in my opinion. Realize that your first attempts will be bad. Give yourself time to get better–and you get better by writing, not by planning.
Uh-oh. I seem to have gotten on a soap box now, and I can’t get off it. Well, I didn’t have much to say about this chapter, anyway, and obviously I have a lot to say about advice. I think I’ve done enough damage for now. If anyone has any comments or questions, please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or post to my blog. TTFN.