I love characters. Not just my own, I love all the good characters I've read about or seen in the movies and even sometimes on TV (in between the explosions). And I'm not alone in this. Lots of my fellow story-holics in blogs, Goodreads.com, and elsewhere on the web, also insist that the character is the heart of a good story. When I started writing Unbinding the Stone a character was all I had, Tarkas, standing in a path with a stick in his hand. I don't know to this day where the name came from. I had the first sentence in my head, and one day I wrote it down. Then I stopped and said (well, thought, really), 'What do I do now?'
Because I had never written anything like this before, never taken classes, no writing groups or crit partners. I was writing a story because the story wanted to be written. So I had to figure something out, because one first line does not a story make. Tarkas paused in that damned forest path for a reason!* So I gave him a reason, a small one, and it justified him in pausing. But of course that wasn't enough.
I invented a plot. Step by step, one foot after another. Question leads to answer which leads to the next question. Where was he going that he needed to pause? If you've given the right answers, you've got lots of next questions to choose from. Not that the whole story is going to be a sries of answered questions, otherwise you've got a logic problem on your hands instead of a novel. The answers came when I needed them, too, never the expected reason, always something from left field. Tarkas appeared from the ether, and when I needed them so did a lot of other characters, doing other things for their own reasons, and my stories are about these characters and how their purposes mesh, or clash, or walk side-by-side. Some characters literally appeared when some other character turned around. None were invented.
This makes it hard to write. I can't tell you what my book is about because I don't know what my book is about. I think the first story I wrote where I knew what the story was about was my short story 'Off the Map'. This is because it was written for someone, Sandi von Pier, who had won a contest and my story, featuring a character based on her was the prize. I doubt it was what she expected. She gave me details about herself and I built a story based on them. So many ideas I stayed up for two hours plotting the story. Even the name, Off the Map. Plotting was fun. Plotting was...new. I wish I could do more of it.
On purpose, that is. I'm actually reading up on it, in a book called (ahem) 'Plot'. Original title, eh? I figure it may not be enough to tell me what I'm doing, but it may help me figure out what I've done.
*"Tarkas paused in the forest trail as he became aware of the sound of voices raised in Song."