I don't remember what book it was, but recently I read a novel that gave me a great idea for getting to know my characters. In the beginning of each chapter, the author included a brief memoir excerpt from a character's POV. Now, this wasn't a memoir type of story. In fact, it was more of an epic fantasy, so these excerpts didn't really fit neatly into the chapter. Yet, they were interesting because they gave the reader (me) insight into the character's perceptions, aspirations, observations, etc.
I'm explaining all this because I want to share with you something new that I'm trying. You see, I have journals all over my house. They're tucked in dresser drawers, night stand drawers, on bookshelves, and on my computer desk. Strangely, most of them are empty. (It's a compulsion...I love buying them. I love the look and feel of them. I love the potential each one holds.)
So, I read these memoir-like excerpts in this novel, thought of my many empty journals, realized I was ready to start planning my next major project, and had an ah-ha! moment. Instead of stumbling blindly about in the first draft stages, perhaps I can give myself a roughly drawn map of my characters, their families, their hopes, dreams, aspirations, their private griefs, resentments, and flaws. I can discover who they are before I write a single word of their actual story.
So, I picked up one of my empty journals and grabbed the baby name book (everyone has one of those, right?), and sat down to channel the heroine of this nebulous tale. Her name is Eden. I've only written a couple of entries so far, but I've already discovered quite a bit about her. I know she was orphaned at the age of two, not because her family is dead, but because they went missing. When she's not working on a client's problem, she's looking for leads in tracking down her parents and sister. She's also had her heart broken by the man she thought would be the love of her life (she's torn between loving and hating him). Oh, and I know her work takes her off-world.
Apparently, this one will be sci-fi.
I also did a journal entry for her business partner. He talked a lot about his family, but the most interesting tidbit is that his oldest sister thinks he has a crush on Eden. Something he doesn't really deny. I find that rather interesting.
I don't have a villain yet.
I don't know anything about her family other than their basic facts (names, occupations, ages). I get the sense there was foul play involved in their disappearance, but I don't know what or how or why. Big blanks there.
I don't even know what her story is going to be about, not really. I'm thinking discovering it may take some time. Still, if and when I write her story, I'm thinking she'll be a very well-developed character.