David Balducci, on characterization.
In an interview currently on The Daily Beast, writer David Balducci says:
very much a writer who lets the story develop. I don’t know what my characters
are capable of until I spend a hundred pages with them. So how can I know what
they’d do at the end of the book, if I don’t know them well enough to begin
What has to happen on page one, and in chapter one, that urges you
to read on?
two things, hopefully both. I have to give you an interesting character who you
can either root for or against. And second, something has to happen.
mean that someone has to die or something has to get blown up. You just have to
present some sort of conundrum, problem, or issue that this character, who
you’ve hopefully begun to grow interested in over the first few pages, has to
--edited by Mimi Speike on 3/21/2014, 2:57 PM--
--edited by Mimi Speike on 3/22/2014, 12:18 PM--
Or characters simply appear, petitioning to have their stories told. Some are diffident about it, and others stride confidently onto the story-stage, interrupting the interview going on between writer and another character, to demand, right now, the writer's attention and quick response to their demands.
They may reveal more of themselves slowly or quickly, but that initial arrival is straight out of the dark hollows of imagination, without much writer-will about it. Sometimes they respond to a prompt ("I'm supposed to write a story for this anthology about X, and I need a character...." and there he or she is. "It's my story," the character announces. "And it started the day when..." Just as commonly they arrive when no prompt or summons has been given. One of mine arrived near the climax of another book, impatiently waved aside what I was writing, and said "I am alone in the world for the first time in my life and I thought I would be afraid but I'm not. Write this down; it's important." I argued for the completion of the book I was writing. A sharp pain in my skull, as if she'd tapped it with a thimbled finger. "I said it's important; do you usually disrespect your elders?" I gave up, wrote a few pages to quiet her down, and then sneaked back to the book I was supposed to br writing. "You'll regret this, " she said, "when you come looking for me in a few months."
But this applies to the major characters...the minor ones I can (usually) make do what is needed at that point, though they always try to get me to listen to their life 's story as well. "Yes, I'm being blackmailed and that's why I handed over the information, but you have to understand it wasn't my fault to start with. My mother got sick and the only way I could get enough money for her medical bills was to gamble..." And I'm muttering to myself "All you had to do in this scene was fall down dead right in the middle of the main shopping concourse...just fall down, dammit, and quit explaining yourself." Sometimes the minor ones get past my guard, and so readers get to find out about the ship-rigger and his wife and his daughter and her dowry and realize that he's a good guy, really, but very suggestible. However, some of them do just do what I want them to do--delay or frustrate or help the main character who comes across them.
I've actually done that, but not early in my writing. I used to just give up and start another one. That's a luxury you can afford when there's not money on the line. But if you go on to writing for a living, and have publishing contracts based on the use of a particular character, you can't just give up....there's a deadline coming down the track at you.
I've had several characters who were doing well until we got to the point where the character needed to change (and wouldn't) or needed to reveal something deeper (and wouldn't.) And yes, I threatened them. Sometimes it happened several books into a series; sometimes it happened in the first quarter of the first book. I give them a talking to just as I would a real person. "Don't think just because you're the protagonist I can't yank you out of this book and give someone else center stage. I've been patient, I've listened to you, I've given you the cup of tea and the cookies...now shape up and tell me what I need to make this work, or I swear, I will call my agent and editor and tell them we have to regroup. Now, right now, or there's the door." Apparently this panics my character-generation module which gets into high gear and gives me something worthwhile. Fears, ambitions, old injuries, new enthusiasms, all come bubbling out.
I have no idea how a character that I make up can hide things from me for umpty-ump pages and then--having had the "We need to talk" conversation, come out with this really good stuff I should have known from the start. It's not like I don't ask stuff early on. Some of them just don't open up until I get after them. Others--the entire life story pours out when they first come to "audition."