I am now on the third book of my UNDERCURRENT series titled RAGING TORRENT, now in the editing and revising stage. As I read through these chapters that I wrote months ago, I am pleased that I’ve kept my characters true to themselves. My initial reaction has been something of relief, that somehow, miraculously, I’ve accidentally included sayings, reactions, and mannerisms that reflect on something that happened previously. Whether I did this intentionally as I wrote these sections is irrelevant. I’ll tell you what I mean by that in a minute, but first, here’s a little more on those three things I promised you.
I love writing the dialogue in my books. It’s where I can misuse a word, where I can use slang, shortcuts, a funny pronunciation, or a “catch-phrase” that my character likes. This is where I feel closest to my characters, and I think this is the most obvious place where I need to get it right. If Phelan—my protagonist—is usually kind of reserved, strait-laced, level-headed, or otherwise predictable, then I should not have him launch into an explosive tirade, unless something really warrants that. It’s my job to know where his breaking point is, and occasionally, to do something to him that makes him crack. But I have to be careful to not overdo this, because you as my reader, will get tired of hearing it.
Sayings, Quotes, and Expressions
My “sidekick” character, Destyn Albright, has his own way of speaking because he’s a computer grub. His room is full of computer gear, cables, routers, and peripherals, and his head is full of slang. Destyn is SO much fun to write, because he’s the funny, unpredictable, and distracted one. This is where I might make up a slang word, but even more importantly, he might be the only one who really understands what it means, and he will always be astonished that Phelan probably won’t know what he’s talking about, and if he does, Destyn is likely to poke fun at him.
Reactions and Overreactions
Ariana Torrent is Phelan’s girlfriend as we approach the second half of the first book, but she is so much more important than that. You see, Phelan is the one who is more likely to initially panic or become over-excited when there’s a lot going on, and Ariana is the one who can see through the fog, find those little details that help them both re-center on the facts at hand, and keep everyone on track. Ariana is not going to throw her arms up and surrender. She’s going to quietly and calmly study the situation and find her way through the chaos.
For me, I picture Vincent LaGuardia Gambini (My Cousin Vinny, as brought to life by Joe Pesci) studying the photos from the crime scene with the pivotal clue right there in front of everyone the whole time. He suddenly goes silent, and then shifts between the photos, noticing two sets of tire tracks, the source of which could only be a posi-traction rear differential. (Okay, don’t get me started on MCV, because I just love this movie) Look, the point is, Ariana does NOT at all resemble Vinny, but she is likely the one who will notice that thing that nobody else has noticed. Her reactions to similar situations need to be consistent.
These are the quirky things that my characters do. One goofy thing that I’ve made Phelan do is “notice when the clock changes” while he’s still in bed. What? Let me explain… I do this. I know it’s weird, but I often wake up just before the alarm goes off, and I turn to look at the clock just as the time changes, so now Phelan does that. I’ve also tried to find a unique and funny way to reveal Destyn’s love of strawberries. Ariana is a “Surf”—someone who was born on the surface and moved to the underwater dome. As such, she sometimes reveals her nervousness about being hundreds of feet below sea level. I find that these sorts of things are the ones most likely to just “pop into” my writing. If I’m writing a scene, sometimes these things just put themselves onto the screen, and then I read it later and realize what I did. And that is something that you need to know as you are writing your book.
How to Simplify This Process
You have to know these people like you know your friends, your coworkers, or your family—and let’s face it… that’s probably where your characters are coming from anyway, right? Phelan used to accompany me on my commute to work. Not for real. I mean, I’m not nuts… C’mon, now! Really, I worked out a lot of these things when I was alone in the car for a good bit of my day going back and forth to work. A strategy I used was to imagine what I would say to Phelan if we “hung out” together. It works! After three books, I’m pretty sure I know these people better than anyone else, and that, my friends, is the secret. It’s not enough to have a “Character Guide,” or little sticky notes around your monitor reminding you of these things. You have to know these people, and all of this stuff will come out in your books. Now get on with it! This is the fun part!
Want to meet my friends? They can all be found at the end of this link: Amazon.com: Michael Crowl: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle. Paperbacks and Kindle eBooks are available for UNDERCURRENT and RISE OF THE WAVE. RAGING TORRENT will be out soon. Okay, soon-ish.