I've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: when you write a script, either for stage or screen, you don't know which actor or actress will play the characters you create. So you have to focus on what they are inside, more than what they look like. You will know the basics of sex and age and you need to know what they do (and sometimes don't do!). But the bulk of your time is spent figuring out what they want, what they will do to get what they want and who will try to stop them. I have an article on my website about this process called "Getting the Wood Out." In the article I go into more detail about my character discovery process. I quote from that article: "In his book, Playwriting: The Structure of Action, Sam Smiley identifies basic character traits, from the simple-tangible to the complex-intangible, that are important to good character creation. By understanding and using these traits, you rise above simple craftsman to character magician, resulting in characters that linger after the last page is turned". Everyone has different methods of character discovery and I am a huge proponent of sticking with what works. The end goal is the same: creating characters with beating hearts that hook the reader and keep them from first word to last.
In the run up to, and during the release of Girl Gone Nova, I've done a ton of interviews in a lot of different places. While the questions I've been asked have been, for the most part, unique, there is one question that's popped up a lot: When did you decide to become a writer. I answered it in a variety of ways, mostly based on my mood the day I did the interview, but the last couple of months, as I launch into a new book, I've come to realize that there is another answer to that question (thought my previous answers were also true). I became a writer before I knew I'd be a writer. I became a writer when I started to read, really read. I became a writer when I became a reader. It took me a while to reach the point of creating my own fiction, but as I was reading, I was learning. One of the essential lessons from that reading is that characters are the beating heart of good stories. It's the characters that drew me, and kept me in, the books that I still love to read today.
The challenge for any writer, I don't care how long we've been at it, is to make our characters come alive. At first, they come alive for us, so we can become partners in telling the story, and then they come alive for readers. Sometimes characters arrive in my head fully formed and very pushy. That doesn't mean that I get a pass on working the character out, because I still have to have my personal "meet and greet," I still have to get inside their head and find the right words to make them live on the page. But what about those times when I have a plot and have to find the right people to experience that plot? Often it's like watching a stage filled with shadows, some that shift and some that disappear as I try to get close enough to see and hear them talking. I began my adventures in writing with stage plays, so it is natural for me to see my story like that, as if were playing out on a stage or movie screen with me in role of scribe.