I’m in the early stages of a new project, and I’ve learned one of the best approaches to these first months with new characters is to let them mill about on their own in my mind. Sometimes I press them into service as I draft a chapter and then re-draft it and then throw it out and start over. Sometimes I ask them to sit still so I can scrutinize them via a hodgepodge of character development exercises. Drafts and exercises sharpen my sense of the story and add layers to the characters, certainly, but these people are just as likely to resolve into clarity on their own, while I’m looking at other things.
Because this new book involves ghosts, it is easy to think of these characters haunting me, lurking at the edge of my imagination. Like ghosts, they appear unexpectedly, occasionally when I look for them but more often when I don’t. Like ghosts, my characters are the leavings of what’s come before, bits and pieces of my own life, of stories I’ve heard, people I’ve known, places I’ve been, and history I’ve studied. They live in the present but are of the past. They are imagination embodied.
Of course, since these are fictional ghosts of my own making, they are also of the present, and as I go about my business, waiting for the time to be right to put these characters onto paper, they are enriched by the happenings of the now. Small details like the color of the first snow clouds of winter and large ones like devastating fires in California are painted with the infinite brush strokes of my days onto my ghosts. They will one day live in the story I’m only just getting to know, and they will haunt readers who don’t yet know these characters are coming into their lives. And then these ghosts will mill about in other minds, waiting to be mustered.