Writers create. Writers invent. Writers discover. But do we go far enough?
Do you invent elaborate histories for the characters you write, even if most of it will never be part of your book? Some authors do. Some authors can’t even begin a work until they know everything about their main characters—where they’d go on vacation, if they have any allergies, the names of their next door neighbours. Others just know a name and plop the character right down into the action to discover who they are.
Neither one is right or wrong; it’s whatever works best for you, the author. Personally, I like to know a little bit about a character, but usually they reveal details about themselves to me as I write. Some of it might go into the story, other things become background information for me only. It’s all a part of the creative process.
Recently, I was watching one of those fabulous TED talks with multi-media artist Shea Hembrey, and it hit me…how much should I know about these people in order to accurately reflect their lives? Hembrey wanted to see what was going on in the contemporary art world and decided he wanted to showcase 100 of the best artistic talents from around the globe. As he started to think about the logistics of putting together such a show, however, he realized it would be easier to just invent 100 artists and create their body of work to showcase. And so he made up 100 artists and put together a portfolio of their work for his show. Seriously, watch this entire talk. And then go to his site to view all of the work. The way he talks about the “artists” will make you howl with laughter. This man knows A LOT about the people he invented and as a result, “their” art is engaging and completely different!
This is what we should do as authors. Invent, create and go that extra step. It might flesh out our characters in ways we’d never even think of otherwise. Even if you decide not to go as far as writing a character’s term paper, for example, knowing details about their lives that don’t relate to the story is just as important as knowing things that will.
How far do YOU go when inventing your characters? Let me know!