For as long as I’ve been writing short stories I’ve struggled to formulate plots and environments that immerse, entertain, and provide an escape for the reader. I say “struggled” because every time I write, that’s what’s happening. Some authors can craft fantastic realms that are so real and so engaging in a single brainstorming session at Starbucks.
Not me. I’ve found that, as far as fiction-writing is concerned, my comfort zone is in character creation. I love bringing someone or something to life and seeing what they can become as the plot progresses. For as many calories as I burn trying to write that plot in the first place, developing a character is actually fun. Hell, it’s practically the reward I get for working on the story itself.
One of my favorite examples lives in my current endeavor, The Lives of Dexter Peterson. At one point Dexter becomes the captain of a small starship and one of his officers is an entity named Huey. Here’s a blurb:
“Hang on to something,” [Dexter] interrupted, “we’re going for a field goal.” [Alexandria] looked confused for a moment but wrapped her arm around a nearby rail anyhow. Huey could be seen behind her, oozing about and generally enjoying the excitement. With no bone structure and a body that closely resembled key lime pudding, he never needed to strap in. The last Dexter saw of him, Huey had splattered all over the ceiling with an enthusiastic giggle.
I wrote the last two sentences as an afterthought- a “wouldn’t it be cute if” moment -never thinking a peripheral character like that would develop much. Then he grew on me. All it took was the image of a pile of goop riding out a space battle and screaming “wheeeeee!” Humans can be predictable and commonplace, but an amorphous space blob just proved too much fun to resist. The “wouldn’t it be cute if” turned into a serious line of questions that would define the character.
- If he’s not humanoid, how does he move?
- What kind of voice would a pile of goop use, if he spoke at all?
- Does Huey eat? How? What’s his diet like?
The questions kept coming and, as I learned more about Huey, he became more than a prop. Huey was alive.
I decided to make Huey a simple-minded creature because I couldn’t imagine any reader taking a pudding-based life form too seriously. The simple mind gave Huey an innocence that further endeared him to me, so I couldn’t kill him off in his first scene. That’s a trap I’ll often fall into; if I end up liking a character, I really don’t want them to go away. I wanted the readers to learn more about him.
Okay, that’s a lie. I wanted to learn more about him. Playing with an intelligent pile of goop was like finding that one Lego that fits a hundred different ways into whatever you’re building. The possibilities stacked up quickly and as I wrote I was almost giddy with fascination. Okay, that’s another lie, I was giddy. At points I actually giggled like a schoolgirl in whatever coffee shop I wrote in. People must think I’m weird.
In any case, as I write more fiction (and, on occasion, song lyrics) I’m always looking out for those characters that I can fall in love with. Whether or not my settings and story progression suck, at least I’ll be surrounded by good company.