Here’s what I believe happens when a writer begins her story with an authentically realized character (as opposed to one from central casting, formed out of the necessity to see a certain preordained action take place). If she allows him to take shape slowly on the page, if she resists the urge to make assumptions based on what she thinks he should do, he’ll take on a life of his own and very nearly reveal the direction of the story.
The process that comes to mind here, that most resembles the one I undergo when I embark on bringing a character to life on the page, is that old art class exercise I still love, the contour drawing. You set your pencil on the paper and keep your eye firmly locked on the face of your subject, and then you let the pencil begin to move. You don’t look down at the paper. You don’t allow yourself to tidy up the image, and because of that, the image you create is likely to be a strange one.
An eye may show up on a cheek, the brow intersecting an ear. The strange thing is, an honestly executed contour drawing, created by a patient hand and a more patient eye, often conveys a more accurate rendering of the subject than one of some more deftly executed suitable-for-framing likeness.
– Joyce Maynard
This is exactly how I write, and I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one. I’ve said before that I’m now a hybrid of a pants-er and a plotter when I write, whether it’s for NaNoWriMo or just on my own, where I set out a month or two to write a story, but all the time, following the character where he will take me.
And that’s where I am right now with my WIP, Collateral. I’m now in the second to the last chapter and it’s where everything falls into place. It can be stressful, especially when the character of Heath totally went against the way I’d written him originally, and so did the main character, Billie. It felt like a rebellion happening on the page and as much as I could have gone on with the way I wanted the story to go (instead of going with their version), I followed their version of the story – their story. And from here, it’s anybody’s guess what will happen next.
But like drawing on a page, and keeping my eye on the scene unfolding before me, I’ll choose to focus on something and let the graphite make its marks on the page. Not exact, yet organic and true.
And maybe even better than the way I had originally plotted it.