When Characters Step Out of the Mist
As I said there, once I have brought my characters to me in meditation, I turn over an index card on my desk with a question. I can’t say how important it is for me to be surprised by the question. If I know ahead of time what I’m going to be writing about I spend the entire meditation thinking and planning. The element of surprise makes it possible for new and interesting things to bubble up—things I didn’t already know.
I have a number of prompts scribbled on those index cards, and I add to them all the time. After reading the “swing set of tears” scene in A FAULT IN OUR STARS, for instance, I added a question about childhood toys. A teenage character I’m working with now desperately a Barbie doll when she was five—a toy her feminist mother wouldn’t allow her to own. I’m not sure how that plays into her story yet, but I do trust that more will be revealed.
Here is another prompts that has taught me a lot about my characters:
Your character has a strong memory involving a parent. What is it? Is it a happy memory? A sad one? A mix of emotions? Why is it such a powerful memory?
Learning what that memory was for Michael in MICHAEL AT THE INVASION OF FRANCE helped me to figure out what his inner journey was. It informed every sentence in the novel.
And another prompt:
Your character has an object in his or her hand. What is it? Why is it important?
When I was learning about Daniel in DANIEL AT THE SIEGE OF BOSTON, I discovered he was holding a clay marble—his lucky shooter. All of a sudden I had my opening scene and the marble plays a roll in the climax as well.
I’m always collecting new prompts. I’ve already collected a couple this month from other writers’ blog posts. If you find one that’s especially helpful, please share!