I wish I could describe the process of creating a character without it sounding completely abstract. I never write character sketches and I don't work out a character's background details in advance, so you could say that I wing it... except that I know a great deal about my characters upfront, before I actually start writing.
Here's the best way I can explain it: have you ever met a person you instantly connected with? You didn't know that person at all, so you had no sense of their history or their character. Even so, you instantly picked up on their sense of humor. When they told a story, you had no difficulty reading the nuances that spoke volumes on how they felt about a certain person or issue. You didn't necessarily share their sentiments, but you understood where they were coming from. It might take weeks or months or years to truly know this person, yet on some instinctive level, you "get" them from the start.
It's like that for me and my characters. When I started writing THE DAMAGE DONE, I knew what Lily Moore was running from. I knew the push-pull dynamics of her family and the ways she had of not dealing with the truth. I knew that she was embarrassed by her family problems, and that a combination of loyalty and pride would get her into trouble. I also knew that she would [un]happily stay in the same vicious circle until the day she died unless the pattern was broken; by the end of that book, it was. At the beginning of THE NEXT ONE TO FALL, she's trying to pick up the pieces of her life with little success. There's a dark, obsessive side to her personality that was mostly under wraps in the first book, but it surfaces in a big way in the second one. Did I always know it was there? Yes. The details of Lily's life took a while for me to piece together, but I had a strong sense of her character from the start.
This isn't about sharing experiences with your characters, though it can be. You don't need to walk the same path to understand the journey. The third book in the series, EVIL IN ALL ITS DISGUISES, will be out on March 5, 2013, and it will add another dimension to Lily's character. In it, she's had more time to process the losses she's suffered, and she's made peace with parts of her past. But she's never confronted her craving for revenge, and she's finally forced to.
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If you're interested in winning an advance copy of EVIL IN ALL ITS DISGUISES, all you have to do is sign up for my newsletter. I'll be holding a couple of drawing for the book, as well as one for a complete set of signed first editions of the Lily Moore series. Don't worry about me spamming you. As Lily could tell you, I'm much too lazy to actually write a newsletter.