Many of my conversations with young writers recently have involved making choices about characters. Interestingly, many writers often don't take the time to think about their characters as real people. We dream up an exciting story idea and we start writing. Maybe we know a few key facts about our characters, but we tell ourselves: I'll figure it out as I go. This isn't a bad plan, in fact, it keeps one from becoming so caught up in planning that we never start writing.
However, investing time in character development leads to such interesting places. We discover that our character likes to play tic-tac-toe with sticks and rocks, and thus we have a perfect opening scene. We learn that our character cannot bear the smell of banana, and we set their getaway scene in a banana truck.
When I follow my story where it leads and let my character develop as I go, I find that the character's traits all center around the plot. What would they do in this specific plot situation? All those lovely random details that would make my character seem more real never show up. I don't think to put in a banana truck and lose the opportunity for humor.
And thus, when I saw the theme this month--Ice Cream--I couldn't help but wonder. What flavor would my character choose? I've been indulging in more ice cream than usual lately, maybe because I'm training for a marathon and low on sugar, or maybe because CA has been unpredictably hot. What I've noticed, though, is that walking into an ice cream shop is the prelude to a hundred decisions. What flavor? Cup or cone? Waffle cone? What toppings? Whipped Cream? A cherry or no cherry? My favorite is chocolate peanut butter with a little chocolate sauce in a waffle cup with some ground up Oreo cookies sprinkled on top. I'm pretty predictable. Some characters are predictable, too. Others choose something different each time. Either way, knowing a variety of little details about one's character gives a story depth and layers and just a little bit of randomness. The way real life is. So why not ask yourself a few random questions about your character today, and see where the answers lead?