I am absolutely thrilled to welcome Dianne Warren as my guest blogger today! If you stopped by yesterday, you read my review of her latest book - Cool Water. It was a 5 star read for me. The characters in Cool Water stayed with long after turning the last page.....
Character in Cool Water
"When I teach writing, one of the most common questions I get is about character development. Certain how-to books tell you to make lists of character traits and what people wear and how they talk and what kind of childhood they had. I do none of this and I venture to guess that most fiction writers do not. By the time you finish writing a book you might know what your characters keep hidden in their dresser drawers, but you can’t create a character by deciding this before you start... unless of course what is in the drawer is part of the premise. There’s always an unless.
For the most part, what a character looks like – blond hair, dark hair, short, tall – doesn’t matter to me, unless the character is seen through the eyes of another character, in which case the interpretation has more to do with the looker than the one being looked at. Instead of presenting a full-colour portrait of a character, I might pick out one object of clothing that symbolizes the character, or says something about that character’s life.
For example, when Lee gets out of bed in his first chapter he grabs a wrinkled shirt out of the laundry basket. The shirt symbolizes the loss of Astrid, who used to do his laundry. When Marion buys the mint green pantsuit, watched in the store by Vicki, we see a shy woman planning a “date”. So the description of apparel is not without context. There’s no point where a description of the characters’ clothing is provided by me, the writer as observer in the scene, just to paint a portrait of the character for the reader, as in “John the doorman, with his dark wavy hair and blue eyes, stood under the awning in a blue suit, wearing black patent shoes....”, etc.
When I created my cast of characters in Cool Water, my interest was in their lives within the context of the community of Juliet, and their interconnectedness there. It’s hard to say how their individual characters were built, but I know it didn’t happen from the outside in. I think character is born of solitude. And when you understand a character in solitude, you understand how he or she will act and react around other people.
I’ve been asked several times if I like the characters in Cool Water and I have to say, yes, most of them. Although there are some very bad people in the world, I believe that most people are just trying to get by in the time that they have on earth, enjoy themselves at least some of the time, find friends and partners in life, do a good deed once in a while. Life is in many ways a lonely business and people are fortunate when they experience moments of the sublime in their loneliness. Lee has one these moments as he rides the horse alone in the darkness. Norval experiences one in the swimming pool. Shiloh, as he lies against a hay bale in the ditch after hitch-hiking away from town.
Although I consider my characters to be realistic, I do not see Cool Water as a “naturalistic” novel. I’m not interested in day to day details for the sake of those details, or for the sake of creating busy work for a character as he or she gets from A to B in the plot. I strive to make the realistic details of what a character does play double duty. For example, when Lee cleans Astrid’s silver tea service, he’s making life without Astrid and Lester his own. He plays with the word samovar, which slips the teapot into the world of Lee’s – and the novel’s – desert mythology.
For me as a reader, character is where my interest lies. There’s no one kind of book about character that I like – realistic, post modern, historical, stream of consciousness, whatever – but I want to be convinced that what a writer says about people is insightful and honest. That’s the wonder of fiction; through imagination – basically, making people and their stories up – you can achieve some kind of truth about the world we live in."
Thank you so much for stopping by Dianne!
Read an excerpt of Cool Water.