As I write the first draft of MANPADS, one of the key elements of the story is creating the characters. It’s a chicken and egg situation because the overall plot defines the “boundaries” of the character and the characters make-up and actions make the story interesting. And, you have to make them different and interesting to the reader.
So which do you do first? The short answer is both. And here’s why. Throughout the book, I try to let the characters tell the story.
When I come to what I call a roadblock in telling the story, the problem is usually with the character and what he/she believes and does or hasn’t done. Once I settle on behavior and the actions that follow, I go back and tweak prior sections of the manuscript to provide the necessary elements to support what is currently happening. Sometimes the changes are a few words, but more often, it is a passage or two that have to be either created or rewritten. The takeaway is that this is an iterative process that may happen several times during the writing and even the editing of the book.
Here’s an example from a book that I am currently writing that has the working title MANPADS. In it, there is a rebellious Saudi woman who comes from a well-connected wealthy traditional Saudi family. Back in the 60’s and 70’s in the U.S. she would have been called a “woman’s libber.” The novel takes place in 2011 and many Saudi families still arrange marriages with the woman playing a very traditional role that doesn’t include a career in the business world. She goes her off to the U.K. to go to school and find her own way in the business world.
The woman becomes a very successful banker yet her “ostracism” from her family scars her. As she looks at the world, she realizes that her sympathies lie with Al Qaeda. She wants to overturn the very system that has allowed her to become very wealthy. How this conflict manifests itself is part of the story. Since I am only about a quarter way through the manuscript, I’m not sure what will happen to her. I’ve got an ending in mind, but it may not be what finds itself into the final version.
Researching Saudi family life and traditions has been fascinating. It is a lot to absorb and synthesize and net down to a few character traits. The hard part is getting my head inside the head of a Saudi woman to make her both real and believable. Some sections flow really well and come flying off the keyboard. Others, well, they’re a tough slog.
Stay tuned and I’ll tell you more as the manuscript gets written.