Outlining is great, but there’s one big downside, I’ve found. Although I can describe the plot points, the twists that will happen in the tale and the growth of the characters as they go through their story, they still feel flat. Less even than two-dimensional, my characters feel only like vague sketches, outlines that possess no real personality.
Of course, that’s because it’s the truth. While I’m outlining, my characters are barely more than ideas; they don’t yet have any life breathed into them.
That changes, however, once I start putting words on the page.
Sure, the first draft of my novel is only that – a first draft. Many of the words that I write will end up being cut, or massaged in the course of editing and revision. But still, with each sentence that I write, my characters grow a little more real, gain a little more flesh on the skeletons I crafted in the outline.
Authors talk a lot about character growth. It’s often slipped in under the subcategory of voice, the way that each author’s words shine through from the page.
Most of my character descriptions start off pretty succinct to the point. My main character, April, is short, brunette, in her late twenties, lives in New York City, is next to broke, owns a small two-door Mazda, and works as a journalist. That’s a good description for a police sketch, but it doesn’t convey much about April’s real character, her personality.
But now, as I write the first chapter, I put down on the page that April’s got $12 left in her checking account and worries a lot about the bills piling up on her rickety little dining table in her apartment. She almost never drives her car, because she managed to snag a really good parking spot right near her apartment, and she’d rather take the subway than have to search for parking. She’s a little scared of her coworker, a much better reporter and journalist than she is, and she tends to talk to herself when stressed, giving herself little bits of motivation to help fight her fear.
Now, that’s a much better description of a real, multi-dimensional character!
This can’t be forced, of course. It has to happen naturally, and there’s always the line of “show, don’t tell” – these little details are revealed to the reader as the character goes about her life.
Still, as I start writing, it’s fun to see my characters truly come to life!