Pride and Prejudice photo, from Amazon.com
(any excuse to post a picture of Mr. Darcy)
Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint, by Nancy Kress, is loaded with great advice about...well, characters, emotion, & viewpoint! One of the cool tips is to assemble the players we've thought of for the next book, and then make them work for their roles.
I learned the main character can't just waltz into a novel, assuming she's the best person to tell the story. What if her older sister captures more passion? (Jane's story instead of Elizabeth's? No!) What about the love interest? Would he be the best person to ignite the author's creativity? (Pride and Prejudice from Mr. Darcy's point of view...deliciously different)
Kress's solution to the "whose line is it anyway" dilemma? Audition these players, and see whose viewpoint would provide the best story. She suggests we ask the following questions when choosing our star:
- "Am I genuinely interested in this character?"-- If we're constantly thinking about this person, inventing backstory, dialog, and character traits, there's a good chance this person would work well as the lead.
- "Is this character or situation fresh and interesting in some new way?" -- This is where we can add a twist to a structured mystery, or choose the unlikely hero of our story. If my idea surprises me, I'm hopeful it'll surprise readers.
- "Can I maintain enough objectivity about this character, combined with enough identification, to practice the triple mind-set--becoming author, character, and reader as I write?" -- This was another great lesson I learned from Kress's book, and I blogged about it here.
- "Do I want this character to be a stayer or a changer?" -- Kress points out that some of our favorite characters have "stayed," such as James Bond, meaning his basic character is unchanged throughout the story. Other favorite characters have "changed," and by the end of the story, they were completely different people (Mr. Darcy!). If we want our main character to be a "changer," which person in our cast has the greatest capacity for change?
This advice is great for me, because I normally think of plot first, and then character. This taught me to choose my main character wisely, because he or she will determine which story will be told. My next book is formulating in my head now, and the characters best be ready for a casting call.
How about you? How do you choose who will play your main character, and who will play supporting roles? Do you create plot first, or character?