Karen Brichoux

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"Draws the reader into the story and never lets go." --RT Bookclub
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"An exceptional novel." --Melissa Senate, author of The Solomon Sisters Wise Up
"A coup. Warm, smart, and original." --Kirkus Reviews


Characters, Part III

August 31, 2003

September 2003 Newsletter

Characters Part III: Mixing It Up

Before I get started, I want to say "thank you" to everyone who participated in the contest. The response was overwhelming! If you didn't win this time, don't despair. :) Check my website often for future contests.

I'm sitting in my office, with a cat snoozing on my desk while attempting to kick my keyboard onto the floor. ("This desk is too small for the two of us," he says.) Outside my window, I can hear the glorious sound of rain easing the drought, and coming through the window is the smell of Labor Day BBQ from the neighbors' party.

Could it get any better than this?


In honor of Labor Day, I'm going to finish off the Characters sequence by explaining how I work to create characters.

I don't.

That sounds a little silly, but bear with me. It takes me about six to eight months to gather enough bits and pieces to write a book. Small things like snatches of songs, old candy wrappers, the neighbor's kid swinging on the chain-link fence until it breaks and he can escape, the way the dog rolls his eyes when I comb out the burrs he (deliberatel)) picked up on the walk....All of these bits catch and cling on the rough places in my mind.

And one day, sort of like the cheesy special effects in the _Star Trek_ transporter room, characters begin to form. It might just be a snippet of conversation. In _Coffee and Kung Fu_, for example, the very first time I met Nicci and Ethan was when Ethan asked her if she would sit with him on his break. She refused. That got me asking why. Why did she refuse? Why did he ask? And suddenly, all the bits in my mind began to whirl together: The classic Jackie Chan films I was watching; the newspaper story about lack of funding causing a shut-down of the local shelter for the homeless; the empty can of Pringles I had thrown away last week; my new tea pot; and the memories of the Philippines that always come when the autumn wind blows just right, and I swear I can smell the molasses scent of the sugar cane factory near the house where I grew up.

All of the things that I'd been collecting like lint in my head suddenly came together to form characters and situations, and _Coffee and Kung Fu_ was born.

And because I let them come to me at their own pace and at their own time, the characters were real and, I hope, honest. I've written manuscripts where I interviewed characters, created characters, did a police write-up of characters...all the usual things the writing books say to do to create honest, consistent characters. Those manuscripts--all 900 pages--are sitting in a directory called "Ick" on my hard disk. But those manuscripts were a learning experience. They taught me that I had to let the characters come to me. They didn't like being dragged kicking and screaming from my subconscious. And when I did drag them, they sulked. Or told bad jokes. Or publically humiliated me by disappearing after I got done boasting about what a great story they had to tell.

So now I wait. And let the bits and pieces catch and cling until a character appears who has something important to say to me. Not to anyone else, just to me. Because I'm the only writer who can write his or her story. And once that happens, all the bits and pieces begin to fall into place and a new story is born.

I'm still learning not to be afraid during those six to eight months when it feels like I'll never have another writable idea. But if I don't let the fear get the upper hand, the characters will come.

Okay, enough _Poltergeist_-sounding stuff. I'm off to dig out the hot dogs and hamburgers.

Happy Labor Day!