A professor in a biography-writing class once told us to choose the people we want to write about carefully.
“You’ll pretty much be living with them for the entire semester,” he said. “You’re going to learn everything there is to possibly know about them. You’re going to hear about their childhood, what they like to eat, what they like to read, if they chew with their mouths open, and if they leave the seat down on the toilet. You better like them. Or you’re going to go crazy.”
This was true. But it’s not just true for biographies, it’s also true about novel-writing. When you start out writing your book, you better make sure you love your characters enough to spend the next two, three, four, fifteen years with them.
I learned this the hard way. I’m always brimming with ideas, mindlessly daydreaming, thinking up new characters and storylines and worlds, traveling from one thing to the next in my crazy brain-train. The problem for me has never been what to write, it’s what to choose. Narrowing it down to one idea and a cast of characters has never been easy.
I just finished up a draft of a novel that I was struggling with, but had no idea why at the time. I loved all the characters, especially the protagonist. But something wasn’t working. I’m only beginning to realize now that maybe I don’t love him enough. At least, not in the way I feel about Toph in CHRONICLES OF MEDES.
It’s weird talking about my affection for someone who doesn’t technically exist, but my feelings are there, and they’re real. When I compare how I feel toward Toph against how I feel about other characters in novels I haven’t completed, I can see the vast difference. I poured heart and soul, flaws and imperfections, pain and suffering, challenge and growth into Toph. I needed to do that to all the characters I write.
When I start on my next novel, I’m going to remember this, to give it my all, to be all in. I’m going to give each character a chance, a real chance, to fail, to grow, to suffer and move on, and to really live.