I’ve been benefiting lately from the extra perspectives that outsiders can provide to my story.
One of the more painful realizations was that I don’t love all my characters equally. Or maybe that I don’t know them enough.
Now, I’m not the sort of writer who feels the need to have a year-by-year scrapbook for every major character, but I do think I need to know more about them than anyone else– including themselves.
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Rather than “interviewing” my characters (so far) my method has been to collect an emotional profile.
I’ve given advice before that recording details of a significant event isn’t as useful as doing anything you can to root the emotions connected to the event.
My reasoning is that a writer’s skill will only increase, and if all you have is notes of a happening you will always be limited by what you’ve written down.
If, by contrast (or in addition), you can access a deep emotional core, you can use that as building material.
With this as a sort of guiding principle, rather than interview my major characters about childhood nicknames and how that made them feel, I’ve collected songs.
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This is where I was reminded I needed to know my characters more than they know themselves. I’ve been rather pleased with myself and what I’ve collected, but because of this outside perspective I realized that I limited myself with some characters.
For example, there is my “handsome and conflicted” Prince Torbjorn.
Back when I began collecting songs, his first was Savage Garden’s I Knew I Loved You Before I Met You, and I laughed over that way too much.
You see, he was the dutifully obedient prince marrying the princess assigned by his parents, in order to neutralize a threat on their southern border. And I knew his sense of duty would extend to the new wife, and he would choose to love her. (Not that she would feel loved with that approach, but that comes later.)
When I reviewed his playlist today I saw that, out of 20 songs, 3 at the most were his voice, expressing himself about himself. All the rest were “relationship” songs.
Now I think this is brilliant, because good ol’ Torb really is all about the other. It’s the way he was groomed. And it’s fine for him not to think of it, but now I need to be careful to make it conscious in my mind.
Not that he’s shallow or empty. Here’s a couple of his character sketches (I key off of lyrics, so don’t expect interesting visuals):
For contrast I present Cecillia, Torbjorn’s intended. She has 21 songs on her list and ~ 11 or autobiographical. Before I started looking at the split I wondered why I felt so close to Cecillia when she’s such a minor character. It’s because I found her core. I know her.
So anyway, I’ve got between 7 and 20 songs each for 10 major characters, and I’ve found this the perfect medium to cerement a character. I still need to make notes about hair or eye color, but build, personality, and a reasonable estimate of behavior all come out of the music.