Characters Make the Book

Writing books is a chore. Yep, it does not just happen—it takes work. Obviously there is the mental issue—no that’s not saying you have to be “mental” to write books—but; okay, it helps. Before writing you have to have an idea for a book. Let’s say you want to write a mystery. You have to have a plot—or maybe several. Is it a murder mystery? Who was killed and why and by whom? Of course there must be characters—some of my books may have thirty or more —each needs to be developed to fit the story and described to the reader.

If you read my blog you know that I claim the characters write the book—just a little BS there. The characters drive the story; but they are directed. As you write, the characters take on their own existence and reactions in the book are based on those characters and how they would respond to what is happening. Of course they don’t write the book—that task falls to the author. Hours and hours of writing.

The characters make the book—usually more than the plot. People read books about people. My focus has always been on the characters. Often these fictional actors are a mixture of people I’ve known or, even in small ways, myself. Of course many of the characters are completely made up to fit the needs of the story.

The character I’m currently writing about is Doctor Hightower. He’s a man of mystery living in a small town in the foothills outside of Denver. He’s an attorney and apparently a doctor of some sort. But the most interesting aspect of this reclusive man is that he has discovered the fountain of youth—or at least a laboratory created substitute. Through the whims of happenstance, he was in the right place at the right time to stumble into a chance for everlasting life. That gift was accompanied by the tragic loss of his greatest love and the pain of a life of loneliness and grief—a never ending life.

So here is a character, who has no resemblance to anyone I knew—seldom ran into folks who claimed to be hundreds of years old—well wait a minute, there was that time in a bar in El Paso, never mind; that is another story. Dr. Hightower sure isn’t me. So a character that I’m not familiar with—how do you write about this unique person. Easy answer –you make it up.

I’ve never met a famous author, I know some people who write but they write mostly non-fiction, historical stuff. I often think about the great authors of the 1800s and early 1900s and the amazingly long novels they wrote, by hand, about the human condition. Some of these works explored the misery that existed for so many people; and yet more often than not these writers were usually well off—often from elite, wealthy families. One of these authors in particular fascinates me—Victor Hugo. His two greatest works were Les Misérables, 1862, and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, 1831.

These stories take us into the underworld of misery and injustice that existed for most people at the time. How does someone like Hugo write with such detail about something he had not experienced. What I have read is that he did research. For Les Miserables he visited some of the horrible prisons that existed at the time and talked to men who had no hope. But research is just observation and data gathering—he was still able from a position of privilege to describe the misery that existed in a way that touched everyone who read his books. He made it up.

A fiction author is someone who makes up stories. There is always an element of truth buried in every fictional account. Maybe it’s the author’s experience, or maybe observation, or maybe it just popped into the head of the author from some place we don’t yet understand.

Children are very good at making things up, even creating their own worlds; but are often scolded by adults for this creative act. Story telling becomes a no-no. A good fictional author may be the result of non-scolding parents who loved their children’s stories or maybe these authors are just good liars.

PS. I first read Hugo’s books as Classic’s Illustrated comic books. These comic books from the 1950’s had a great impact on my life—I still recall the wonderful feeling of reading these great stories. Obviously Hugo’s writing was dumbed down for kids—but the overall impact was still there. Both Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame were available as comics and they were two of my favorites. The sadness of the stories had a great impact on me. I spent a great deal time thinking about how these people lived and must have suffered. Why other humans would be so cruel was very troubling. I still don’t know the answer.