Today I'm welcoming Maryann Miller, author, journalist, editor, screenwriter and more. She recently placed in the top 15 percent of entries in the Chesterfield Screenwriting Fellowship with the adaptation of her mystery, Open Season.
Maryann lives in east Texas with her husband and an assortment of farm animals and pets (although I'm betting they all count as pets with Maryann).
Creating Characters by Maryann Miller, Guest Blogger
There are as many ways of approaching character development as there are writers, and I am not going to be so brazen as to say one approach is better than the other. What I will be brazen and say is the characters need to be fully developed to be engaging, and I doubt anyone will disagree with that.
Some writers spend a lot of time writing full bios of their main characters, but that approach has never worked for me. Sometimes a central character has come to me almost fully developed; sort of like meeting someone new at a social gathering and clicking immediately on some level. That is what happened with the character of Jenny in One Small Victory. When I read the news story about a woman who infiltrated a drug ring and helped bring down the main distributor in her small town, Jenny was as real to me as if she was a real person in the room with me.
For my two central characters in my latest book, Open Season, I started the development by interviewing a number of police officers to get a feel for how they work, think, and interact. A good friend, who was a retired Dallas officer, put me in contact with a number of those officers, including a young black female detective who became the model for Angel. Sarah, her counterpoint, was more of a composite of several officers I met.
Because I spent so many years as a journalist, interviewing people as part of the character development process comes naturally. During the interview, I not only get facts, but I get nuances of emotion, either through direct comments or body language. That adds another layer to a character. The reader gets to see what a character does and also gets to see how that character reacts, which is an important element of drama: action and reaction.
Once I have a basic idea of who my character is, I like to let her develop fully as the story progresses, and sometimes I am surprised at where she takes me. I think that element of surprise helps keep the story and the character fresh. I do jot down those surprises in a notebook so I can refer to them later if need be.
The one aspect of character development I work the hardest at is making sure the character is not a stereotype. Some time ago a writing instructor encouraged the class to look for ways to go against type or what is expected, and be careful about stereotyping characters: The black drug dealer, the Italian mobster, the Irish drunk, the lazy Hispanic.
His advice has always made me keenly aware of stereotyping, and for Open Season I purposely flip-flopped the more common development of a black woman coming from a lower-class environment and breaking out of the ghetto and a white woman coming from a middle class family. Sarah grew up desperately poor in the hills of TN and Angel grew up in a nice section of Dallas. Her father is a successful plumber and her brother is an attorney. Her only association with drugs or gangs was when she walked away from a relationship when the guy started using cocaine.
Working with Angel and Sarah has been interesting and they constantly challenge me to bring something fresh and different to the story and to their characterization. And for me, that is one of the best parts of being a writer.
Thanks so much for being my guest today, Maryann. I'm looking forward to reading Open Season (amazon.com link), which is rapidly moving to the top of my stack of TBRs from Five Star.
For more information about Maryann and her books, as well as her editing and reviewing services, please visit her website. She also blogs at It's Not All Gravy.and is an author/editor contributor to The Blood-Red Pencil blog.