CC101 – Winners

Thank you to everyone who participated, both with your posts and your comments!  I had a blast — I hope you did too.

Drawn from the posters, the winner is:  Jenna Reynolds!

Drawn from the commenters (including blog owners’ comments), the winner is:  Soleil!

Congrats to both of you!  E-mail me with the details of what you’d like me send you!

Don’t be sad if you weren’t drawn — there’s another chance to win a gift certificate if you can help me come up with a title.  Also stay tuned for more prizes.  I plan to give away Larissa Ione’s three Demonica books in March!

CC101 – Final Link Roundup

A huge thank you to everyone who participated this weekend!  I hope it proved fun and useful!  If I’m missing anyone, please let me know.

Day 3

Soleil’s Cancer, Gemini, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces

My Game of Chance and I Ching

Kait’s Structured Character Interviews

Bethanie’s Favorite Characters:  Neil MeqVren and Characters by Collison

JA Howe’s Human vs. Non-Human vs. Alien, Stock Characters, Death to Smoochy

Jessica’s Holding Out For a Hero

Jenna’s Using the Tarot to Create Characters

Day 2

Soleil’s Aires

Soleil’s Taurus

My Lost in the Trees

Kait’s Semi-Structured Interviews

Molly’s What Makes a Good Character?

Jess’s Setting FIres for Fun and Profit

JA Howe’s Molded Not in My Image

Bethanie’s Favorite Characters:  Miphon, Morgan Hearst, and Elkor Alish

Bethanie’s Favorite Characters:  The Darkyn

Day 1

My Static Trait:  The Little Things

Kait Nolan’s Unstructured Character Interviews

Bethanie’s Favorite Character: Gregar (what an honor for my character to make her list!)

Soleil’s What’s Your Sign?

Jessica Tudor’s The Arsonist and the Firefighter

CC101 – I Ching

This entry will be part two of “The Game of Chance” exploration of character.

I Ching, the “Book of Changes”

The Book of Changes is one of the oldest Chinese texts.  It explores the journey of human experience.  By examining where you are in the journey, you can refer to the text and gain insight into why you’re in this spot, how you may get out, and what may lie ahead.  In that respect, it can be a sort of divination tool.

I stumbled onto I Ching when I began researching my hero for Seven Crows.  His culture is loosely Chinese, and since I was researching various dynasties around the Chinese New Year, an innocent e-mail offer for a free “I Ching Reading” piqued my interest.  I ended up becoming so fascinated that I bought The Complete I Ching so I could make this the hero’s static trait.

When the idea for this Character Clinic came, I wasn’t sure if I could write up something about I Ching or not.  I mean, I only found and used it for a specific Chinese hero in a new story.  I wasn’t sure if I’d ever use it for any other story or character.  But I decided to do a trial run this afternoon for this entry.  Let’s see what you think.

I’m far from an expert on I Ching, but this is how I’ve been using it.

I have three coins, gold Sacajawea dollars I borrowed from the monsters.  To get a reading, toss the three coins SIX times and count the number of heads and tails.  There are four possible outcomes for each toss:

  • three heads (Greater Yin, broken, changing line)
  • two heads and one tail (Lesser Yang, an unbroken line)
  • one head and two tails (Lesser Yin, a broken line)
  • three tails (Greater Yang, unbroken, changing line)

For each toss, draw the corresponding line (either whole or broken) from bottom to top.  You should end up with six lines.  Three bottom and three top lines are grouped together to form one of eight “trigrams.”  Each trigram has a name, like Mountain, Heaven, etc.  The back of my book has a reference table rather like a multiplication table, where I can look up the bottom and top trigram to get the intersection “hexagram,” which is a number from 1 – 64.  Once I have my number, I look it up in the book and read what the original text says, as well as the translation and extra details.  Each reference book will give different insight to the symbol and what it might mean.  I really like my book because it contains details about the Chinese symbol and name, as well as commentary from Confucius, King Wen, and The Duke of Zhou’s interpretations.  Bits of history are thrown in to “show” how they came to these interpretations, which I find fascinating.

Where I Ching can really give some cool insight is when you consider the “changing lines.”  These lines show where the symbol is “moving.”  Some tosses you might end up with multiple changing lines; others, you may not get any.  When I do get a changing line, it’s always interesting to read that symbol too  and gain insight into what might help with the journey facing the character.

Exercise:  I decided to try another “live blog” reading to show how I Ching might work.  I’ve already done this for my current new project using Story Archetype cards.  Since Jessica intrigued me with her “firefighter vs. arson” posts, I had FIRE on my mind.  Could I ever come up with a heroine arsonist and a hero firefighter (marshal, etc.) with a believable romance that still remained true to who they were? 

So thinking FIRE and letting my mind twist on those details, I threw the coins.  From top to bottom:

  • 2 heads, 1 tail (solid line)
  • 2 heads, 1 tail (solid line)
  • 2 heads, 1 tail (solid line)
  • 3 tails (solid line, changing)
  • 2 heads, 1 tail (solid line)
  • 1 head, 2 tail (broken line)

This gives “Qian over Xun” or “Heaven over Wind” = 44, which my book translates as “Encountering.”

The background of the gua, or name “Gou, Encountering” is very interesting for my fire idea.  It means a couple, specifically a married couple, which implies a pairing or copulation.  The whole translation is based on the one “feminine” yin line at the bottom and how the rest of the “male” yang lines “chase” it.  The basic idea of the Gou (44) is “after separation, people meet again.”

Hmm, my brain immediately wonders.  Maybe the hero knew her in the past.  He knows exactly what kind of woman she is, that she’s an arsonist.  That puts the conflict and opposing world views first and foremost in the relationship.

The decision for this gua is particularly alarming for anyone attempting this kind of story:  Encountering.  The maiden is strong.  Do not engage in marrying such a woman.  The union cannot last very long.

Ha!  Maybe Jess is right, hmmm?

The actual Yao Text is almost poetic and sometimes gives interesting metaphors.  Each line has an interpretation, which may or may not give more ideas for the characterization or plot.  For 44, some words that caught my attention:  “misfortune appears — impetuous lean pig, pacing up and down.”  What the heck does that mean?  In the discussion that follows the translation:  “it is better to stop its growth at the beginning so its evil influence will not extend any further.”  Uh oh.  That doesn’t sound very good for our romance, does it.  This line is “unwilling to lag behind.  It is like a lean pig waiting to move forward.  One should be alert and take precautions, as in using a metal brake to stop a moving carriage.”

Line 5 is equally dubious.  “Willow twigs wrap the melon, Concealing brilliance.”  The text explains:  “one at this place has the brilliant quality of tolerating others’ opinions and behaviors, but still restrains the evil influence from spreading.  Melon represents the yin element at the bottom.  It is sweet, but it rots easily and creeps along the ground, denoting the insidious influence of evil.”

Er.  It’s not looking good for our romance.

The final line rings like the final nail in the coffin:  “Reaching the topmost; there is ground for regret,” which is explained as this line reaching the top and falling into an isolated position.  The only yin (female) element is at the bottom, which is too far for him to meet.  His pride keeps him from descending (or in our romance, we could say his sense of justice).  Although there is no reason for blame, there is regret.

Dang.  Sadder and sadder.  Maybe our firefighter and arsonist are doomed from the beginning. 

Let’s examine the changing line, which was line 3.  The text directs me to the gua “6 – Contention.”  Uh oh, still not looking good.  Flipping back to symbol 6, this gua is called “Song,” which means to dispute, demand justice, or bring a case to court because there is contention.  Again, it makes me think of the hero’s sense of justice.  This is definitely true to him and what we’d expect of a heroic firefighter.  He would be driven to stop any arsonist, even, or especially, the woman he loved.

The decision for this changing line is complicated.  When truth is blocked, we should be cautious.  Resolving the conflict at the midpoint is recommended.  If the conflict continues to the end, only one thing awaits.  Misfortune.  Dealing with the contention is supreme good fortune; obtaining distinction through contention is not worthy of respect.

Pretty interesting, yes?  And it looks rather grim for our firefighter and arsonist couple. 

Which if you know me, you know this only makes me want to write it all the more.

CC101 – Roundup Day 3

As people send me their links to their character articles, I’ll add them here.  Check back — the list will grow throughout the day!

Day 3

Soleil’s Cancer, Gemini, Leo

My Game of Chance

Kait’s Structured Character Interviews

Bethanie’s Favorite Characters:  Neil MeqVren and Characters by Collison

JA Howe’s Human vs. Non-Human vs. Alien, Stock Characters, Death to Smoochy

Jessica’s Holding Out For a Hero

Day 2

Soleil’s Aires

Soleil’s Taurus

My Lost in the Trees

Kait’s Semi-Structured Interviews

Molly’s What Makes a Good Character?

Jess’s Setting FIres for Fun and Profit

JA Howe’s Molded Not in My Image

Bethanie’s Favorite Characters:  Miphon, Morgan Hearst, and Elkor Alish

Bethanie’s Favorite Characters:  The Darkyn

Day 1

My Static Trait:  The Little Things

Kait Nolan’s Unstructured Character Interviews

Bethanie’s Favorite Character: Gregar (what an honor for my character to make her list!)

Soleil’s What’s Your Sign?

Jessica Tudor’s The Arsonist and the Firefighter

CC101 – The Game of Chance

This article has been difficult for me to write.  To be honest, I was reluctant, which told me more than anything that I should explore this idea.  In Holly Lisle’s Think Sideways class (see my right sidebar), she often recommends practicing and exploring the techniques that make you the MOST uncomfortable.  Don’t give up on them — they very well might be teaching you the most important thing you need right now.

So let’s explore the idea of “Chance” in creating a character.

I don’t have the source (if anyone knows, please comment with link or details), but years ago I remember reading an author’s recommendation that when plotting or developing a story, you should write down as many ideas as possible — and then throw them away and take the sixth (or some relatively larger number) idea.  Reason:  the ideas you come up with first are standard and most routine.  If you take the sixth or greater idea, then it’s more unique and less routine. 

In other words, don’t take the easy route — it’s too predictable.  And that’s exactly where the idea of “chance” can come into play.

There are many ways you can introduce an element of chance, inprobability, unexpected surprise, etc. into the plot and characterization of your story. 

  • If you have two options for a scene and you don’t know which way to go, you could simply flip a coin.  Heads, take the road to the left; tails, take the road to the right.
  • You could use Story Archetype cards.
  • You could use I Ching, “The Book of Change.”
  • You could use tarot (which I hope my friend, Jenna, talks about this weekend).

The coin idea is rather simplistic, so I’ll talk about the two major elements of chance I’ve used in the past.  In this post, I’ll concentrate on the Archetype Story Cards.  I’ll try to get up another post for I Ching later today.

Story Archetype Cards

These cards are similar to and were inspired by tarot, but are specifically geared toward Story.  Each of the 64 cards has several elements on it:  Moon, Element (e.g. fire, water, air, earth), Numerical value, and an image, whether a person or scene that might be inspiring.  The deck also comes with a handout that gives a brief description of each card and how you might use it.

For example,  “The Rune” card shows an ancient stone rising into a night sky with intricate carvings.  A single star sparkles to the right.  From the description, some key words are “symbols, metaphors, meaning, the nature of reality, the power of words to change reality.”  Isn’t that a bit spooky that I picked THIS particular card?  I just picked it up out of the deck, a bit conflicted about how to write this article, and I get a card meaning the power of words to change reality.  As storytellers, that’s our great desire.

Really, the whole process can get all goose-bumpy and hair-raising.  I’ve found some incredible inspiration from these cards and I really believe I wouldn’t have thought of those things without it.  The cards can help unlock parts of your brain that just haven’t found a voice yet.  I’ve never failed to get an interesting new idea when I’ve used the cards, and there are so many ways to use them!

For characters, the handy dandy handout that comes with the cards recommends that you shuffle and deal out two cards, one face up, one face down.

  • The face up card represents the face this character presents to the world.  e.g. the mask.
  • The face down card represents the hidden nature or secret motivation of this character.  e.g. tied to the motivating fear.

The trick is to open up your mind and simply let the images, colors, and symbols on the cards spark some new element you haven’t thought of yet.

Exercise:  I decided to do this method for the heroine in my current project, Morghan of Seven Crows, a “science fiction Regency spoof.”  This is real, with my thought process as I worked through the exercise.

  • Face up:  The Avatar
  • Face down: The Beast

My thought process:

  1. @#&*@% Why’d I draw the BEAST?  I have no idea what this means.  Why did I think this exercise in “live blog” would be a good idea?
  2. Clear mind and look only at images.
  3. Avatar:  Face up, the Avatar is my character’s mask, what she presents to the world.  Just looking at the card, I noted the following elements:  winged angel, young, beautiful; sword in one hand (which said justice or righteous vengance); armor (prepared for battle), nimbus of gold about her head (glory, holy, righteous). 
  4. Avatar:  number = 10 (final resolution); element = fire (power, energy, warmth, universal essence); Moon = waxing gibbous (rest, consequence, realization).
  5. Avatar:  from the handout:  “active hand of the divine, uncompromisable, justice, righteous retribution, bearing knowledge and sword.”
  6. Avatar, how can I use this?  Morghan definitely has a big goal coming into the story.  She wants to reclaim her father’s proper place in Society, not for herself, but truly for him.  She’s waging war, but not with swords, with the Game of Politics.  She’s skillful and right in many ways.  The big chill-raiser here are the WINGS.  That’s significant to the story and her character in particular.  (Hint: title involves crows.)
  7. Beast, face down, represents my heroine’s inner conflict.  My first impressions of the card’s image:  anger, rage, teeth bared, face in a snarl, red.  The associated element was water, which didn’t quite make sense to me.  Wouldn’t water douse the rage?
  8. Beast:  number = 1 (beginning, fundamental essence, energy without direction or form, basic, desire; Element =  water (emotion, passion, feelings, love, subtlety, creation).  Moon =  waning crescent (retirement, sleep, apathy, waiting).
  9. Beast: from the handout:  “inner conflict, denied desire, censorship, urges.  The battle against the Beast takes place in the heart and mind.  He represents inner challenges and urges.  A person afraid of own actions; ethical dilemma, betrayal, denial of truth.”
  10. Beast:  by now, all sorts of inner alarms are blaring.  Definitely, Morghan is denying a huge secret.  By denying that secret truth, and going to a place of rules and “censorship”, she’s going to feel even more caged.  She wants to fly — but can’t because of the fetters and blinders she put on herself.  She believes Society will clip her wings, but she was clipped and hooded long before she stepped on board the ship that would take her to her father’s home.
  11. The water element in the beast card begins to make more sense too, and gives me an idea for how to douse some of her rage.  Another chilling thing:  the hero is like a Chinese dragon, which was often associated with water.  Yeah, he’s going to be the key to helping her douse that inner rage.

See, isn’t that cool?  I never thought of the inner rage she must be feeling.  Inside, she’s boiling.  She’s mad, mostly at herself, and yes, at her father, and she’s dreading every single step that takes her to the goal, while outwardly she must play cool, calm, and completely in control.  She’s definitely an avatar fighting her inner beast.

Have you ever tried some element of chance to help you develop a character or overcome a block?

CC101 – Discussion Question 2

Writers, if you axe a character from a story, can you “save” him for another story?  Can you see your characters as interchangable in some fashion?

I really struggle with this myself.  So much of a character is tied to the story I’m trying to tell.  If I use a character to prove theme A and then cut him and want to use him in a different story, I have to totally rethink the theme and what I’m trying to say.  The characters get so strongly lodged in my mind–tied to their story–that to make significant changes to the character, I basically have to kill him.  I did this with Shannari between drafts 2 and 3 of Rose.  I murdered her and started over again, and ooooh, boy, was it hard to wrap my head around.

How about you?

CC101 – Roundup Day 2

We have Upward Basketball games this morning, so it might take me awhile to get all participants included.  Check back after lunch!

As people send me their links to their character articles, I’ll add them here.  Check back — the list will grow throughout the day!

Day 2

Soleil’s Aires

Soleil’s Taurus

My Lost in the Trees

Kait’s Semi-Structured Interviews

Molly’s What Makes a Good Character?

Jess’s Setting FIres for Fun and Profit

JA Howe’s Molded Not in My Image

Bethanie’s Favorite Characters:  Miphon, Morgan Hearst, and Elkor Alish

Bethanie’s Favorite Characters:  The Darkyn

Day 1

My Static Trait:  The Little Things

Kait Nolan’s Unstructured Character Interviews

Bethanie’s Favorite Character: Gregar (what an honor for my character to make her list!)

Soleil’s What’s Your Sign?

Jessica Tudor’s The Arsonist and the Firefighter

CC101 – Lost in the Trees

God is in the Details.  Great.  But don’t get so lost in the trees that you can no longer see the forest!

Let me start with an example.  “Letters to an English Professor” (title will be changing) was a project I started back in 2007.  Actually, that’s not true.  A very preliminary idea was started in 2004, but I never finished it and it was really cheesy.  The only element that survived that draft was Conn’s name, and the fact that he was Dr. Connagher, an English professor at Drury University.  I finished the first draft around 49K (don’t laugh — I was trying for less than 30k!) and decided that I would add Conn’s POV in order to reach a single-title novel’s length.

Sitting there looking at roughly “half” a story and trying to decide where to put Conn’s sections, I came to a crucial realization.

  • I claimed that Conn was a professor, but he never did professor things on page.

In short, I had defined a bunch of details for my hero, but they were flat and useless.  Those character elements I’d thrown into the story because I thought they were “cool” were nothing more than a bunch of trees.  I’d lost sight of the forest entirely.

CLUE #1:  If you can remove a major trait or detail from a character and the plot isn’t affected, then you’ve got a problem.

Sitting there in horror, my jaw on the floor, I realized that I could have made Conn a firefighter who sometimes quoted poetry.  A doctor.  Anything.  And that’s bad when the title (at the time) involved “English Professor.”  Even the poetry quotations were “fluff” — or leaves to continue the forest metaphor — that did little to carry the story forward.

In short, I had a lot of revisions to do. 

Solution #1a: Make a list of ways to use the element to drive the story.

I created a list of eveything an “English Professor” might do. 

  • grade papers
  • prepare and give exams
  • office hours
  • student interaction:  cheating; missing class
  • other teacher interaction:  dealing with problem students; award ceremonies; substituting

Then I started brainstorming ways to use these elements as KEY scenes for Conn.  Some of these scenes were only for him, while others began affecting Rae’s scenes.  The more detail I added for Conn, the more I had to change in Rae’s story line.  (A great example of chaos theory:  A butterfly flaps its wings on page 1 and a tornado destroys Act III!) 

At first, this scared me.  I mean, I didn’t plan to change *that* much.  But the process was necessary.  If a scene became important for Conn’s arc, then naturally those scenes eventually had to affect hers.  In fact, I finally realized that I’d missed some fantastic opportunties in the first draft that now I could build on.

Solution #1b:  Consider making the character detail a static trait.

Conn’s habit of quoting poetry became his static trait.  He doesn’t just quote a fluff piece now and then — the poetry builds and supports the rest of the scenes.  I made the poetry more important by adding “pop quizzes,” an element that was barely there in the first draft.  He quizzes Rae on poetry several times throughout the story, and in one crucial scene, Rae realizes that he sometimes quotes poetry to calm himself and gain some control.  The plot became more tightly integrated, making the poetry quotations and pop quizzes more than a lark. 

If I cut those scenes out, the story falls apart.  That’s a good thing.  That’s exactly what I want.

Clue #2:  If you can remove the character entirely and the plot holds, you’ve got an even bigger problem.

In trying to flesh Conn out better, I gave him a best friend, Dr. Mason Wykes, mathematics professor extraordinaire.  I even had a theme song for Mason–More Than a Memory by Garth Brooks.  Mason had a nice backstory.  But very early on, I realized he didn’t do much for the story.  He was a supporting character, Conn’s best friend, yet he SUPPORTED nothing.  I couldn’t even call him a crutch.

Solution #2a:  “Every character is the star of his own story.” 

If you can’t give the character his own goal and motivation — and then put him in direct conflict with another character’s goal in the story — then you don’t need that character.  To fix Mason, I sat down and really plotted out his arc.  What did he want?  What did he need?  How did that affect Conn?  Could Mason be a source of conflict between Rae and Conn?  Absolutely.  In fact, I could probably do an even better job in this arena — I’ll watch for that opportunity as I go through editor revisions. 

Give the character a goal — or gut him.

Solution #2b:  Axe the character or combine with others into a new more 3-dimensional character.

I didn’t do this with Letters, but this solution did help me with the original version of The Rose of Shanhasson, which had literally a “cast of thousands.”  I thought that creating a multitude of characters with backgrounds and personalities was a good thing, when in reality, it merely cluttered the story.  Rhaekhar’s mother was in the first, and second, I believe, drafts, but she really had no goal.  She wasn’t a source of conflict.  When I axed her, I gave a lot of those “nurturing” elements to Alea.  As a result, she became a more rounded character.

Clue #3:  Bigger than life characters are interesting.

One of the flukes of Letters was Miss Belle, Conn’s grandmother.  I must give credit where credit is due, and admit that I got a ton of ideas for her from a list Evil Editor did a long time ago for “Miss Pettipants.”  I gave her several really funny or odd quirks.

  • she talks to ghosts, specifically her dead husband
  • she appears to be senile — but that’s what she wants you to think
  • she looooves pink  
  • she can’t cook
  • she’s nosy

And that’s just a few!  However, where I went wrong with Conn, I went right with her.  All of these little quirks are SHOWN on page and affect the plot in some small way. 

  • Rae believes Miss Belle to be a crazy old lady, but soon realizes that the old harridan is actually wickedly clever and could put the fear of God into General Sherman himself. 
  • Miss Belle is the driving force behind the story from the beginning–but Rae doesn’t discover this until much later. 
  • Miss Belle wears pink; she makes Rae sign the contract with a pink pen; she paints the columns on the front of the house pink; she gives Rae a pink parasol to beat her grandson over the head when he’s too bossy. 
  • She talks to Colonel Healy’s ghost — and even makes a bet with him — but she also acts as a medium for Conn’s best friend. 

In short, she’s memorable because she’s larger than life.  You can’t forget her because she’s so outrageous, and every time you think she’s just a crazy old lady, you suddenly find out some new plot she masterminded.  The reveal of the cook’s husband’s murderer at the end displays that to a T.

Clue #4:  Every character should be unique, but he should also reflect a common theme that ties the story together.

All along, the theme of Letters was the idea of “Making Things Right.”  This is Rae’s slogan for her restoration company.  But this story is also her chance to “make things right” with Conn.  This is his chance to right a mistake he made five years ago on the last day of finals.  Miss Belle believes she’s always right (and so far, she’s right), so she justifies butting in to help people because they must all be wrong!  Mason ends up with a chance to make things right with his wife who passed away years ago.

Great, right?  What’s the problem?

Going back to my mathematical background, there are several ways to prove a theorem.  You can prove it straight forward in a linear fashion.  If A is true, then B is true, then C is true; therefore A implies C sort of logic.  I learned a very important and humiliating lesson in a topology class one year.  To DISPROVE a theorem, it only takes one example that shows it’s false.  I’d labored for hours over what I thought was a straightforward proof. While I stood at the board giving the proof to the class, someone raised his hand and with a just a few lines, provided an example that violated every single thing I’d just proven.

Similarly, we sometimes proved a theorem by negating both “sides” and proving it.  e.g. if A implies C, sometimes it was easier to prove that Not C implies Not A.  Sounds crazy, but true.

One important thing the Witch taught me years ago was the idea of a “unified” story.  Every character in the story should either prove the theme or its opposite.  For a well balanced story, I like to have at least one character who shows the darker side of the theme.  If there’s a positive side to a theme, there’s also a negative side, and that’s a most excellent place for an antagonist.

Solution #4:  Use a character to prove the OPPOSITE of your theme or to reflect the negative aspects.

If the theme of Letters was “Making Things Right,” I needed a character “Making Things Wrong.”  The prominent antagonist in the story is Rae’s ex-husband.  As backstory, everything he did while married to Rae was “wrong.”  On page, he set about trying to get her back, but everything was tainted and negative.  He was abusive.  He was a stalker.  Frankly, he was scary.

Richard (Dick) was the hero’s opposite, and I used him to compare and contrast a controlling, abusive man (Dick) and a sexually dominant but caring and loving man (Conn).  Dick let me show the negative aspects of what could (and did) happen to Rae if she was passive in all aspects of her life instead of merely sexually submissive.  There’s a difference, and the opposite of the theme helped me show that.  How had Richard “made things wrong” and how would Conn “make those things right?”  What mistakes had Rae made with Dick, and how could she avoid them with Conn?  They played off each other, even though Richard wasn’t on page much at all.

Do you have too many trees in your story?  Can you hack some down — or share some clues in how to salvage those lovely trees into a cohesive, well-planned forest? 

CC101 – Discussion Question 1

Writers, do your characters come to you as people, already formed?  Or do you “build” the character yourself? 

I know writers who feel strongly both ways — so I’m not saying one is right or wrong!  Every writer’s process is unique, that’s why I’m curious.

Personally, I see a big block of material:  clay, granite, marble, etc.  The character is inside.  I just need to uncover it.  Sometimes I get a whisper of voice from the block.  Maybe I know what its name is.  Or maybe I know where it came from.  But the heart and soul of the character is trapped inside until I begin to methodically cut away the outside layers to reveal the living, breathing person inside.

What about you?