When Characters Come A’Knockin’…Are You Home?

writing, process, writers, styleI’m certain that there are writers out there that do a thorough story plot, get all their characters in a neat little row, know how their story is going to end.  And that’s all before they write a word of their tale.

I, as a writer, would probably frighten some.  I just sit down and start  typing.  Yes, the story has been bubbling, in my head, for days.  There comes a point where I have to empty it before smoke seeps out of my ears.  Many of my chapters are not numbered because I don’t know yet exactly where they will fit.
And much to my eternal delight (and gratitude) characters just keep showing up.  Many of them I never planned.  When they made their appearance, I had to shape the story around them….because once they show up, they are NOT leaving!  Let me give you some examples.

Beneath the Bridge of Murder Beneath the Bridge of Murder:  O’Roarke and Garcia are down on the docks of Manhattan.  The call is from the NYPD Marine Patrol who pulled out another dead body from the river. As they walk toward the ME and cops gathered around the scene, a young, pretty uniform officer steps out of her patrol car.  Molly wasn’t planned; and now she will be an intricate  part of this mystery and will appear in future books. (can’t tell you more).

Frnt.COVER.tasteofmurder_11OCTThe Taste of Murder:  Arnold Miller (Broadway star and a key character in The Act of Murder.) walks off the elevator that O’Roarke and Garcia, NYPD, are  waiting for in the Food Network Building in lower Manhattan. What’s he doing in this story?
Cover.Angel - Copy

The Angel of Murder:  Vito Vandellino, PI appeared on the page and began tromping all over O’Roarke’s case.  Where the heck did this guy come from?  These are strictly cop, true crime stories.  But Vito is hired to try to find an affluent couple’s missing daughter and I’d better go along with it.  Now, he’s back with his nephew in “Beneath the Bridge….”.

The Song of the Yukon:  My aunt La Verne tapped me on the should one night and said, “Okay, you’ve written your mother’s story but why aren’t you writing mine?  It’s far more interesting; full of adventure and danger and love.”  Well, it was a good question.  I barely knew her as she lived most of her life in the wilds of Alaska in the 1920’s.  So I am writing my ‘epic’ about her life….still not finished…other stories keep getting in the way.  I will finish it…just not yet.  (and writers:  that’s okay to let a story ‘rest’.  It will still be there when you want it.)

faeries, elves, warlocks, fables, riddles, fairy tales, theatreAnd the adorable and Effervescent elf, Cheets.  He put his over-sized feet in my back one night around TheEEElf-Cover1-207x3003AM.  Insisted that I write about him, pushed me out of bed.  By the time I had made my cup of tea, Cheets had given me the other characters’ names and we were on our way.  Now keep in mind, I was NOT a children’s story writer.  What was happening??  Now, four plays and four story books later….well, I guess I am a fairy tale story teller.  Lord knows, I love me some fairy tales.

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4 thoughts on “When Characters Come A’Knockin’…Are You Home?”

  1. Thank you for sharing this, Trish. Glad to hear I am not alone in not following the typically suggested process. I am a believer that there is not one formula to writing, other than to just write. Beyond that, everyone’s “process” should be whatever best suits them.

  2. Trish asked me to post a bit about characters that wander into our brains…full blown and fully developed….without a story. This happens to me all the time. Why? I guess because I’m an intimate observer of life. When I see someone who fascinates me I make no bones about staring. I have even been known to follow them around,..say…in a shopping mall or grocery store. We find so many very interesting VISIONS of people…and I love stealing those visions and dressing them up in my own costumes! I will confess that many times the physical descriptions and the people that I’ve seen are spot on. I’m constantly worried that someone will recognize themself (selves?) and call me on the carpet. So far, after 50 plus years, it hasn’t happened yet.

    Here’s an example. I saw this woman…a Russian immigrant (or certainly from that region) in the mall, on a summer day…in a sweater and babushka. I stole her, lock stock and head scarf…and placed her in my own world:

    “Mary the Eye, some of the tribe called her: Mary the Prophet. She was the tribe’s shaman, fortune teller, visionary. Her basket was a portable shrine, its shadow holy ground. Twisted bits of trash, the tribe’s totem, cast a shadow of a cross in front of the cart. Although her wanderings appeared random, John knew different. She always walked so that the shadow of the cart cast the cross in front of her. Otherwise, she didn’t walk at all, but stayed in one place until the sun cast the shadow again.”

    Colorful characters appear when you least expect them. The key is either to have a good memory…or pen and pad handy. SOME characters, like Willy, you will find you won’t need a pad or a good memory…they’ll just be too hard to forget. The real trick, though, is finding the right story to use them:

    “Willy the Whizzer pissed his initials on the right rear panel of a cab at 5th and Madison. Dressed in faded jungle wear, fatigued to a mist green by overexposure, Willy blamed his problems on Vietnam, a place he’d never seen. Willy could talk the talk . . . name places, dates, battles, even the units involved. His story varied to match the decade and locale of the veteran listening to the tale. His vivid descriptions of the brutality of a war he hadn’t participated in never failed to garner the sympathy that kept him fed.
    “Willy!” Getting Willy’s attention required shouting, especially if he hadn’t finished his initials. He turned slowly towards John Lewiston and grinned. “You piss on me and I’ll cut it off and stuff it up your ass.”

    Great characters…major and minor…will slip into and out of your life in the blink of an eye. Take good notes!

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