By Nancy Ann
When I started writing Home Fire: Sarah and Charlie, I had a
good idea of who Sarah was—I knew what she looked like, I knew how she thought,
I knew that she was strong. But it
surprised me when she broke down and cried at times. It may sound odd that a writer learns about
her own characters when she is the one that created them, but it’s true. When you create characters and give them a
life, they sort of begin to develop personalities ‘on their own’. I know this was true for me.
Hank, for example, turned out to
be more emotional than I had anticipated.
I originally had him down as just an old farmer who was quiet and kept
to himself, yet it turns out that he is a lead figure and looked up to by his
family. He is the patriarch of the
Jacobson clan. He is strong. He is wise.
He has a hard outer shell, yet he as a soft side to him. This is a side of his personality that he
doesn’t want others to see. When I was
writing Home Fire: The Big Year, this becomes evident. Part of me was saying, “Sorry, Hank, but I
have to include this in the story,” when I wrote about his more vulnerable
Now I know that these are
characters of fiction, but when you’re writing a story and creating characters,
their personalities come to life. The
become ‘real’ people that you get to know as the story develops. Particular traits, no matter how slight,
become apparent. It could be something
as minute as how a girl has the constant habit of looping her hair behind one
ear or as evident as an exaggerated limp.
When I start with my outline,
it’s just that—an outline. It’s there to
guide me through my writing strategies, but I do allow wiggle room for change.
When you are building your
characters, agree with yourself to have some flexibility and let them develop
some traits on their own. As your story
progresses, you’ll see how fun it is to get to know the characters that you
thought you knew!