My husband is a detail kinda guy. He's an engineer, after all. He likes order, and process, and structure. With that said, I realized early in our relationship that he's an all-or-nothing man. He's loyal to his friends for a lifetime, he's a boss's dream employee. As a spouse, he's a fantastic home chef, he loves his children without reservation, and it's fun to watch him dive into a new project--whether that means a 24-hour mountain bike race (he just completed 24 Hours of Moab in October) or planting a garden so we have fresh vegetables and chilies.
Halloween was no exception. For the past several years, he's been out of town for work when trick-or-treating comes around. This year, he decided to use his God-given size and fantastic square head to create the perfect monster. After a trip to Goodwill for the too-small coat and two hours of makeup, he became Frankenstein--the scariest our neighborhood had ever seen.
It wasn't just the makeup or the clothes. He was in-character, lurking behind trees, straight-arming little girls who came too close. He practiced his walk before the sun set, to make sure he had just the right creep factor. ("I don't want to appear too zombie. Am I walking too zombie?" he asked.) All or nothing. It's the only way to go, for him.
It made me revisit some of my own characters in my current manuscript. Which one would go all out on Halloween? Would my protagonist organize her research papers, or scatter them wildly? Did I know the motivation for each character? I wasn't sure I knew the answers to those questions. Do I know my own characters as well as I know my husband?
I decided that if I didn't, I'd better get to know them, and quickly. Because with the characters we create, it's all or nothing, too.
With my newly-found critical eye, I've also spent some time reading a fellow writer's latest manuscript, and I've turned the microscope on her characters as well. By page fifty, I wasn't sure if I knew any quirky traits of the main players. Even if two characters have the same profession, they don't have the same personalities. Which one is the life of the party, who is the wallflower? What traits set them apart?
If you don't know your characters inside and out, sometimes they get unruly and you're not sure why. It might be because you don't know them well enough. It didn't surprise me that my husband decided to Frankenstein-up his holiday. And I couldn't imagine him doing it any other way than exactly how he did it. (What other man would spend two hours on makeup?) I knew it because he's my spouse. And the only way to know our characters is to view them the same way.