What’s your favorite book? What do you remember about it that makes it your favorite? Was it the plot? Or was it character?
One of mine is Lonesome Dove. Read the first chapter and tell you don’t know who all those characters are by the end of it and want to follow their story?
New York Minute is the first book I wrote starting with character, not story. I’d been thinking about Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, certainly a very successful character. But mainly because my own background mirrors Reacher’s: he graduated West Point the year after me; was in Lebanon when the barracks were bombed, as my unit, 10th Special Forces, was. His mother is French, from Strasbourg. My wife’s mother is French from Strasbourg. Etcetera. However, I am not a big guy who wanders around the country with just the clothes on my back. I have Cool Gus.
Anyway, I was thinking about character and who I really wanted to write about and I thought about the people I served with in Special Operations. And, honestly, I thought about all my therapy and testing and personality profiling. I always joked when I teach that writers aren’t in the bell curve and we aren’t necessarily on the good end of it. Turns out I’m not in the bell curve and I test out on the autism scale. I think a bunch of people in Special Ops are definitely outside the curve.
I came up with Will Kane. A graduate of West Point, class of 1966. He did two tours in Vietnam, first in the Infantry with the 173rd Airborne, then in Special Forces, where he got caught up with an event like the Green Beret Affair. I gave him a personal tragedy which, sadly, is similar to one I experienced. I gave him some personal issues caused both by nature and nurture. And then I threw him into a problem.
That’s a story.
Here’s some ways you can do characters: