Guest Blogger: Adrienne Garvin Dellwo

May 8, 2018 at 2:39 am (Links, writing) (, , , , , , )

I”m happy to host a fellow writer who delves into the realm of the superhero story.  She has a few things to share about character development:

Some characters come to life in just a few words while others remain as thin as the paper they’re printed on. What makes the difference?

You can analyze the writing and learn a lot about description, dialogue, etc., but a key element of creating great characters is something you don’t see on the page. It has to do with how well the author knows the character.

In my upcoming superhero novel, The Hero Academy, I had to create a lot of characters and find effective and efficient ways to communicate them to the reader. Going over notes from someone who read an early draft for me, I noticed she kept commenting on a particular character. She loved the way he talked, his mannerisms, his attitude. He wasn’t even one of the primary characters, just a classmate of the protagonist. I knew right away why he seemed so vivid to her—he’s based on my son. I’ve known that guy for 16 years.

That proves a point you hear authors make a lot: you have to know far more about what you’re writing than ends up in the book. Building a world? You may never talk about the economy, the history of a region, or the particular lilt of the local dialect, but if you don’t know those things yourself, the world will be less believable. The reader feels a writer’s lack of knowledge and enjoys the story less because of it.

No matter your approach to creating characters, before the manuscript is anywhere near ready for an audience, you’ve got to know who those people are. Some writers get in-depth with their main characters before they start writing, creating character profiles, building backstory, even creating inspiration boards. I don’t do any of that. It’s not wrong, it’s just not what works for me. I prefer to start out with a rough idea and then let the characters take shape as I write.

My method does lead to more work in the second draft, but it also gives me some flexibility. Some of my best characters start out incidental, such as Misty Michaels, an intern in The Hero Academy. I needed someone for the brilliant neuropsychologist to bounce ideas off of, and at the beginning, I believed the doctor was the important character.

Before long, though, I found Misty more interesting and realized she could play a significant role in the story’s climax. As important as she became, though, she’s still in relatively few scenes and I knew she was underdeveloped.

Then came a call for stories. A group I’m part of, the Pen & Cape Society, was putting out its fourth themed superhero anthology, The Good Fight 4: The Homefront. It didn’t take long for me to decide I wanted to write Misty’s backstory. I had a vague idea about some deep, dark secret in her past, and I wanted to know more about it and see how it played into who she became later on.

I wrote Misty’s story, “Impulses,” and it made it to publication before the book. Homefront, which explores the day-to-day life of superheroes, came out May 1. (It’s full of great stories—you want to read it!)

After “Impulses,” when I revisited Misty’s scenes in The Hero Academy, I found it easy to add all kinds of new depth to her character because I know her better. I know why she hid her powers. I know why she went into medicine. I know the struggles that shaped her. I even know why she always carries too much stuff, which leads to lots of jostling medical charts and spilling coffee. It’s not all in the book. It’s not all in “Impulses,” either, and it doesn’t need to be. I know her better, so the reader will understand and, I hope, relate to her better.

A full 90 percent of an iceberg is under water, and you don’t need to go scuba diving to appreciate the beauty of what you see above the surface. So when creating characters (or worlds, or whatever), remember that what you put on the page is the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Much more is beneath the surface, and that’s the foundation. Without all that down there as support, nothing floats.

Many thanks to Adrienne for sharing her wisdom.  You can find out more about Adrienne and her books at her website.

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