You always have fascinating characters, and I know you write three books a year, plus the other works (short stories, etc.) Finding a character and getting the details are generally different for every writer, so I'm curious: how do you brainstorm characters? Do you write out descriptions, do a dialog with the character, chart them, or something else? What inspires you, character-wise?Read the entire Q & A.
(blushing deeply) Thanks Toni. I think your phrase “finding a character” is how I do it. I find out all about them as I write the book. I generally know a little bit about my characters, but not much. I don’t really know enough until I get them on the page. I don’t write out descriptions (which really screws me during the copyedits sometimes), I don’t dialog with them, chart them, or anything that would considered “plotting” (shivers.)
What I do is start with the idea. Like, “Earthquake under San Quentin.” I knew from SPEAK NO EVIL that Theodore Glenn had been convicted of killing four strippers in San Diego, but it was a throwaway line to get Will Hooper out of town because I didn’t need him in the story at that point. But when I started my prison break series, Theodore became my villain. I wrote the scene of the earthquake and put Glenn there. What was he doing? He had something in his hand. It was a letter. To Robin. Who the hell is Robin? Right—she testified against him. Then he shreds it in anger. Wow, he has some emotion there—the only emotion he has. So you can see I learn about my characters as I write. They sort of tell me. Usually when I get stuck writing it’s because I start telling my characters what to do rather than letting them do what they need to do.
I did know that Glenn came from a good family, wasn’t abused as a child, and he isn’t a traditional serial killer. Usually when I get in their heads I figure them out. Sometimes they come fully formed, like Joanna Sutton my heroine in TEMPTING EVIL. Sometimes it takes me a little digging, like Kate Donovan in FEAR NO EVIL. She was such a tight-lipped bitch, er, heroine, it took me awhile to figure out what made her tick. Anthony Zaccardi in the novella came fully formed, it was the heroine Sheriff Skye McPherson that I had a bear of a time with. Again, because she’s a closed, private person and just didn’t want to open up.