Beginning a new book is always an exciting thing. I’m always ready to see where my characters take me, and often times it is a surprise to me. I outline, but the characters don’t always agree to follow my guide map and go off on tangents of their own. To me, as the writer, that is when things get really interesting as the characters start to take ownership and direction of the story flow. Sometimes I do have to reel them in a bit, but normally I am doing all I can to keep up.
At the beginning, I usually mentally try out some scenarios of simple every day life, to help me get a better understanding of how the characters react and interact with each other and their environment. I want to know them intimately – if I don’t somewhere along the line they will turn into stick figures that I am trying to move through situations rather than full-fledged beings thinking, reacting, and feeling so readers can identify with them. I recently did an interview with Katie McCabe, the main character in my Misfit McCabe series for Carolina Valdez Miller, and have been thinking about having a few more conversations with my characters to get a take on where they might be taking me in the next installment in the series. While this is not another interview, I am amazed that I am still learning things about my characters even though we are going into book 3 together.
I was thinking about Sarah, the cousin Katie is closest to and has the most interaction with, and who is a central character to the series story lines. As thoughts were flitting through my mind, I thought about her getting dressed into the clothes she works around the farm in, and it hit me…I had no idea what brand a jeans she wears. Is she a Levi’s girl or are Wranglers the jean selection of choice? Sarah was a little miffed with me for not knowing, after all, we’ve known each other for quite awhile, and she practically lives in jeans, unless it is a more formal occasion and I hadn’t even noticed what brand she wears?
In my defense, I barely notice what brand I wear let alone anyone else on the planet (or those who inhabit my mind). I am not a fashion maven and never have been. Sarah’s reaction told me that while it is something that had escaped my observation, it is something that is obviously important to her and that she felt the choice says something about her as a character. My initial thought was that she slides into her well worn Levi’s, but the moment the thought was in my mind, she interrupted wanting to know if I had just dressed her in Levi’s. That’s when she got a little irritated with me. I’d like to go on record now as now being aware that Sarah wears Wranglers – no fancy designer jeans, but well worn (and obviously loved) Wrangler jeans. Matt and Mark on the other hand wear Levi’s, which I somehow new because of the little red tag on the back pocket. Draw whatever conclusions you want about that observation.
While it may seem like a small and rather superfluous thing to know whether a character wears Levi’s or Wranglers, it is the sum of all those little details which may or may not make it into the final text which make the characters who they are, and the more you know about them, the more real they will be on the page, and the more your readers will feel like they know them at the end of the book. Which is really the point of the entire exercise.