Thanks to a very vivid dream I had recently, I’m preparing to write my next novel. I have the whole outline done and a list of the important characters with a few notes as to who they are in the margin. And before I start the first sentence, I’m fleshing out a few of the main characters by writing a quick bio about who they are and why they’re the way they are, written in first person.
The amazing thing about writing is when things reveal themselves to me, the writer, that I didn’t even see coming. It happened in the last novel I wrote, when a secondary character suddenly became so near and dear to me that she ended up having a huge part of the spotlight. And it just happened to me again when I was writing about the ex-wife of one of the main characters. She was the main reason for the divorce from the main character, and proves to be a roadblock for things moving forward smoothly. This woman is cold and manipulative, resentful that she was forced into motherhood shortly after her wedding when all she really wanted was a good education and a promising career.
Sussing out her details, I suddenly discovered that she was really afraid she wouldn’t know how to raise her son properly. Her family had all been very well-to-do, with great educations and social obligations. Her mother left raising kids to the Spanish housekeeper, leaving details like puberty, boys, and other delicate details about growing up to a woman who could barely speak English rather than being their for a daughter that needed her. This character that I’m writing about always figured this was just the way you raised kids, even though it caused a really painful memory of her childhood. When she became pregnant, her fear manifested into resentment, holding onto the things she was being held back from to hide the fact that she was really just scared.
You’d think as a writer, these details would be of my planning. But to the contrary, it’s the characters who tell me these things as I’m getting to know them. I’m only the messenger.