Each month, we ask one distinguished author or illustrator to write an original post that reveals insights about their process and craft. Enjoy!
Creating Characters in a Setting
by Patricia Reilly Giff
Photo provided by Patricia Reilly Giff, 2010
Usually, it’s the character I think of first. I never see that character’s face—even when I’ve written for months and the book is finished. Rather, it’s almost as if the character is whispering in my ear, saying, “Hey, this is what I need. This is what I want.”
So, as a change of pace, it’s been fun to start books with the setting instead. That’s what I’ve done in my “ZigZag Kids” series (Random House, 2010). The setting is an after-school center—the World of the Afternoon Center—and there’s not just one character to think about, but a whole bunch of kids! They all come with their own longings and goals. It gets challenging because they’re talking to me at once, sometimes even shouting, “Will you hurry up and solve my problem!”
“Wait a minute!” I say. I can’t begin to write until I have three things firmly in my head: the person, the place, and the problem.
I stretch out on the floor as I picture the character Destiny Washington who’s told an enormous lie. How will she ever make things right? And Mitchell McCabe who wants to be Number One instead of Number Eighty-Seven. And Charlie who’s desperate to invent something that works for a change. Good problems.
So then I just pull out my computer … throw in some dialogue, add some action, include a whole lot of worry, and somehow … solve the problems.
Once the characters are happy, this author can relax!
This material may not be used without the express written consent of Patricia Reilly Giff.