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Stumped on Character

This morning I was  interviewed by a newspaper reporter. This is only the second time I’ve ever been interviewed for being a writer and the first time I’ve ever been interviewed in person. All of my previous  interviews (most of which were for  my game or software projects) were via e-mail.

I was a little nervous, but Brittni (the interviewer) was very gracious and helpful, and things seemed to be going well. Then she asked me a question that completely stumped me: “How would you describe your main character?”

There is no reason in the world why any writer should ever be stumped by the question of describing his main character. Part of the stumping was nerves, of course, but a bigger part was me not having an easy answer.

You see, for me, Al (the main character of Dragon Run) is not a collection of adjectives. He’s more like a real person to me, someone who I know extremely well.

When I’m writing, I’m not consulting a list of adjectives. The process is not “he’s smart, so he’ll do this” or “he’s easily embarrassed, so he’ll feel this.” It’s more a question of simply knowing him so well that I know his responses.

If you were to ask me what my wife would do in any given situation, I would  respond in the same way. It wouldn’t be an intellectual analysis, but simply an understanding.

This is a weird thing for me to realize. I tend to think my way through problems, and the idea that I’m writing based on something other than a methodical sort of thinking is a bit unsettling.

I think it’s also good.

If I were to write down a list of adjectives for Al at the start of Dragon Run, they would include things like naive, honest, trusting, kind, confident, and optimistic. Starting around Chapter 2 or 3, I’d have to throw in desperate, scared, and uncertain. At the end of the book, they would include things like determined and brave and even self-sacrificing.

You see the problem? The list changes – so much so that I think having a list would give me problems. I’d have to have things like “before page 50, this adjective applies” and even that  would be doing a disservice. What words work as a transition between desperate and determined? I don’t know.

So… I think that my approach may actually work for me. I know my main character so well that a list of adjectives is limiting rather than helpful, and I think that’s a good thing.

Of course, none of that helps me answer questions  about my main character… I’ll have to keep thinking about that one.

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Posted April 24, 2013 in Writing