There are characters who flash through my head like wild bikers. They zip in and out, cutting off other characters, and laughing with impunity at their own devil may care behavior. They have no regard for the plot or the timing. But the roar of their Harley combined with the flash of their grins makes them irresistible to me, and I try to grab onto their stories and jot them down before they disappear. I don’t always know how they will fit in the story arc, but I never ignore them when they show up.
Other characters peek out from behind something, only letting me catch only glimpses of their true selves. They aren’t ready to venture into the spotlight or stand up and announce themselves at the weekly support group meeting. “Hello, my name is Ichabod. And I’m a goofy character in Lynne’s imaginary world.” They are developing into real people, but they aren’t there yet.
Most of my characters simply wander into my head and pull up a chair to the table. I know who they are the minute they walk in, and I know which story they fit in. They show up fully developed with a rucksack full of back-stories and attitude. The primary role players are usually in place as soon as the first ideas flash through my head. I often don’t know their names, but I know them.
Casting a book must be similar to casting a movie. I find myself muttering things aloud as I work out a character, “He’s like Peter Lorre without the bug eyes.” Or, “He needs a sidekick. Like Tom Arnold to Arnold Schwarzenegger in True Lies.”
Many of the characters in my head are like actors who audition for roles in my books. Am I looking for short or tall, thin or fat, funny or morose? Some of them can do it all, but a few are those character actors that appear in show after show. The ones you can’t name, but you know their face. “You know. That guy. He’s in everything for God’s sake! What the hell is his name?”
In the concept for the new book, my first image was of a young military woman who’d worked her butt off to get a certain job in a certain place. I saw a single scene in my head between this woman and an unpleasant individual and I knew I’d write this book.
From the moment I had the idea, I saw her in my head. I could describe her, I understood her, I knew her. But for over two weeks, she didn’t tell me her name. I simply knew her as Sergeant. Only when I sat down and wrote the opening paragraphs did she tell me her name. USMC Sergeant C.J. MacLean, hometown Niles, Ohio. I still don’t know if the C.J. stands for anything or not – no one has asked her and she hasn’t volunteered the information to me. Knowing who she is as a person doesn’t mean that she’s revealed all her secrets yet. That’s what makes this so fun – I don’t know where C.J. will lead me yet. But I keep hearing an explosion in the back of my head so something bad is going to happen to somebody.