Tuesday, August 22, 2006

On Characters, Cooking & Music

What I'm reading: Since my last entry, I finished The Last Detective by Robert Crais and Into the Storm by Suzanne Brockmann. Reading Hostage by Robert Crais.

What I'm writing. Book 5, chapter 8.

Developing characters through food and music. Or is it meeting characters? Although I'm supposed to be in control, there are times when they're introducing themselves as much as I'm trying to create them. Often, the music I'm listening to helps me find the characters.

In my first book, I had no idea Randy was an accomplished pianist until more than halfway through the book. Yet when he insisted on sitting down at his grandmother's piano after a miserable day, I sat back and listened. In going back through the manuscript, I discovered that I had to delete exactly one line in order to keep things in character for him. Everything he did was consistent with someone who used music to escape. "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and "Pathetique" seemed to guide the characters.

In my second book, instead of making music, Graham cooked. Here I had this macho deputy sheriff, who worked on his Harley during his time off, but when he sat down and picked up the magazines on his coffee table, he was reading a salmon recipe in Gourmet Magazine. When he was stressed, he made Moussaka. He let me in on his secret a little earlier than Randy had, but he was definitely a closet chef. I admit I had to call upon my brother's expertise when Graham tried to make pancakes but Colleen didn't have baking powder. Graham knew what he was doing but wouldn't tell me.

Blake, in book 3 came to me almost full-blown when I was listening to Dan Fogelberg's "Leader of the Band." The line, "Papa I don't think I love you near enough" defined his character, and any time I needed to know what he would do, I could listen to that song. Later in the book, he connects with Kelli by trying to cook a chicken recipe she made for him early on, and by baking chocolate chip cookies. For some reason, these two never found common musical ground.

In my fourth book, neither character cooked fancy, but Frankie has a daughter, and she makes kid-food. Happy-face pancakes, tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches. Comfort food that ends up helping Ryan face the death of his mother. Frankie and Ryan met dancing to the Eagles.

Dalton's hasn't needed to cook, although I've already set a scene in a kitchen. I don't have his theme song, either. Maybe that's what's slowing down the writing at the moment. I know Dalton's a good dancer—like Ryan, being able to dance was one of the job skills needed to work for Blackthorne, Inc.

Maybe I'll include a recipe or two with each of my novels. I posted one for my short story, "Out of Sight" on my website.


Anonymous said...

Those are great examples, Terry, you have a way of letting your characters come to you. Each of my stories has a theme song or two (or three). Music is what most influences me at creative times.

Terry Odell said...

It's strange what triggers something, isn't it? I was listening to Beethoven's "Pathetique" and I just KNEW the hero would play that to center himself after a bad experience. Until that point, I wasn't aware he even played the piano! But it clicked.

Emma Sanders said...

Oh, sounds good. I love characters (especially men) who can cook. It always makes me hungry.

Terry Odell said...

Thanks, Emma.
My brother's a chef -- he was cooking and experimenting with food from the time he was about 10, I think. I made sure my son could cook before he left home, and he took great advantage of having an uncle who could help him through those early cooking days, albeit via phone or email. My son's contributions to the department social functions became a much-anticipated event.

My daughter told me she had downloaded Relationships but wasn't going to read it until after she'd eaten. Her motto: "Don't read Mom's stuff if you're hungry