by Joanna Campbell Slan
“Sarah Booth and Jitty came to me in tandem, arguing just as they do in the books. When such fully developed characters visit a writer, it’s
truly a gift.”
Joanna Campbell Slan:Talk about hearing fully developed characters, please. Why and how do you think this happens? Can an author improve the chances of such visitations? Should an author ever ignore those voices and replace
them? What if the fully realized characters don’t work with plot?
Carolyn Haines:Last question first. Most good plots come from character,
so if you’ve got a mismatch, the book isn’t going to work. I do think
most writers hit streaks when the characters are fully alive and in
the moment with them. When I write, I almost have to get to that
place—I have some subconscious control, but it seems as if I’m
merely watching, not engaged in the action.
How to bring about this? I think it’s a matter of focus. Knowing
your story, knowing your characters, and a real regard for language.
Writing isn’t about slapping words together. It’s about thinking.
And language is very delicate. We forget that sometimes. Word choice
is vital to character development.
JCS:Carolyn, you create truly vivid, one-of-a-kind characters. What
are some of the techniques you use? I notice that Jitty’s clothes are
always a highlight, as are Sweetie Pie’s sunglasses and scarf. You
seem to be able to vary the cadence of your characters’ speech.
CH:Well, thank you very much. I think clothing and accessories are
one of the easiest ways to characterize. They can show a character’s
humor or quirkiness or hint at the character’s motive (and
sometimes this is a deliberate misdirection). I think what makes a
unique character is what’s in his heart, his spirit. Is he greedy,
selfish, mean, generous, afraid, desperate? What does he desire?
Motive is what makes us do the things we do, and motive stems from
our unique psychology. Why do some people feel they must have
designer labels and others are confident in thrift shop finds? Why
are some people happy in the country and others in cities? These are
the questions at the heart of a character. It is often helpful for
new writers to do intensive character studies. Write it down. Read it
often and remember the moments in the past that have brought your
character to this particular place and time where the story begins.
Since I clearly hear how my characters speak, I can write their dialogue
most of the time without too much trouble. Long ago I was shy, and I
listened a lot. It’s a good thing to do. In fact, I make it a habit
of eavesdropping almost everywhere I go. Fascinating.
For more of this interview with Carolyn Haines, go to http://JoannaSlan.blogspot.com
Joanna Campbell Slanis the author of Paper, Scissors, Death
(Sept. 2008 Midnight Ink), an Agatha Award nominee for Best First
Novel, and Photo, Snap, Shot (May 2010 Midnight Ink). Visit her at www.JoannaSlan.com