I just rewrote the first scene of the novel manuscript I’ve been working on for three and a half years now, not counting the last year and a half in which I barely touched it. (Stopped at page 130.) I’ve rewritten this scene a billion times, and never liked it. I’ve kept coming back to it, over and over, and it was always painful.
This time, though, it was a breeze. I mean, it just flew onto the page, and I’m completely happy with it. ‘Course, I may reread it tomorrow and hate it, but for now, I’m a little euphoric.
The difference, I think, is that I now “know” the character, after having the whole thing in the back of my mind for that break. Her character makes more sense to me. I have a basic idea of her history. To be honest that’s what I never bothered to do with her, through the two years I workshopped the manuscript – give her a life. She was based off of a strong idea I had of her in a moment of time, over halfway through the novel’s story. I figured rewinding her wouldn’t be a problem. It was.
How much does one need to know about their characters? Some people have recommended that you write little biographies, fill out forms with details. But those feel artificial and when I try them, they tend to come off as unreal. Or stuff that really doesn’t matter to the character. But then, knowing some of the most mundane details about a fictional (or real) person’s life can be terribly illuminating. So what do you need to know?
Some authors, I'm told, just stick a character into a scene and they click, click, click. They don’t know where these characters come from and don’t care. What’s up with that? What’s going on here?
An addendum: It occurs to me that through all the times I painfully rewrote this scene, I cared more about the situation than the character. Until now, when I found a lot of it was extraneous – the scene is now under 6 pages. (Some version pushed 20.) Was I just making her jump through hoops? Was that the problem?