Friday, March 22, 2013

Friday's How She Does It with Meg Benjamin

1. How do you create your characters? Do you have a specific process?

My normal process for creating characters is just to let them develop as

I work out the plot, although I’ve got some really useful spreadsheets I

picked up a few years ago from Delilah Devlin that help in sketching out

the general details. With Bolted, though, I was in a new situation since

it’s part of the four-book Promise Harbor Wedding series with three other

writers (Kelly Jamieson, Sydney Somers, and Erin Nicholas). The books

aren’t really sequential—they all begin with the same, disastrous wedding

ceremony and then take off from there. And some of the same characters

show up in all four books. So although I could let my hero and heroine

develop over the course of the story, I also had to keep my fellow

writers up to date with how they were developing so that they’d seem the

same in the other books. And some of my secondary characters,

particularly the heroine’s mom, had to be changed slightly so that they’d

fit everybody’s concept of what they were like. It was a different way of

working and sort of fun.

2. Do your characters come before the plot? Do you sketch out your plot or

do you let the characters develop the route to the end?

They’re sort of developed simultaneously. I think character grows out of

plot, but I also think the characters I’ve come up with affect the story I

tell. Most of my books are semi-comic, so my characters aren’t heavily

into angst. Again, this was interesting in the Promise Harbor series. We

all brainstormed the general plot, but then our characters took off from

there. As I say, everybody started with the same situation, seen through

different characters’ points of view. In Kelly Jamieson’s Jilted, her POV

characters were the groom who’s deserted at the altar and his former

girlfriend. Both of them have reason to be heartbroken over what happens,

and Kelly’s versions are very emotional. My POV character is the matron of

honor. She’s less involved in the situation and a little more cynical

herself. So my version tends to be more snarky than angsty. The same

things happen in all the versions of the wedding that show up in the four

books (in fact, we all had to work together to make sure the incidents in

our scenes were the same), but the characters involved make all the


3. Do you know how the story will end before you begin? In a general way

or a specific one?

I couldn’t really work with a story that was open-ended—I’d be afraid of

getting blocked midway through. So yes, I know how the story ends. The way

the characters get there may change as I work through the story, though.

My heroine’s ex-husband pops up in Bolted, for example, but the idea of

him I had before I started writing changed slightly as I began working

with him. He developed into a much more interesting character as I wrote

him into the story.

4. Do you choose settings you know or do you have books of settings and

plans of houses sitting around?

I’m more comfortable with settings I know. My Texas books (the Konigsburg

series for Samhain and the Medium trilogy for Berkley InterMix) all take

place in settings I’m very familiar with so that I can describe them

without too much strain—I lived in San Antonio (where the Medium trilogy

takes place) for over twenty years and I spent a lot of time in the Hill

Country, the location for Konigsburg. Bolted was different, though, again

because we all decided on the setting together. Promise Harbor is in

Massachusetts, somewhere vaguely close to Martha’s Vineyard. I did, in

fact, live in Massachusetts for a short time many, many years ago, but

it’s been a while since I’ve been back. In this case, I had to refresh my

memory about how things looked via Flickr and movies like Jumping the

Broom that actually take place in the right area. The four of us decided

on some common settings, like Barney’s Clam Shack in Promise Harbor. But

we also introduced some places that were purely our own. In my case, it

was a dilapidated hotel in a little town a few miles up the road that my

hero calls Casa Dubrovnik (the owners are Alice and Nadia Dubrovnik).

It’s sort of based on places I’ve stayed, but also some half-remembered


5. Where do you do your research? On line or from books?

These days on line, almost exclusively. It’s so much easier to find what

you’re looking for immediately. Of course, you have to be judicious about

what you use since there’s a lot of nonsense posted there and about how

you search. But overall, I’m a real Internet fan. I’m working on another

Konigsburg book that has a barbecue theme, though, and I admit I’m using

some Texas cookbooks as my sources.

6. Are you a draft writer or do you revise as you go along and why?

I’m definitely a draft writer. I think that stems from having been a

writing teacher many, many years ago. Most of the research I’ve seen on

writers’ block says that it stems from trying to make something perfect

the first time around. The mantra we were always taught was, “Just keep

going.” You have to have something written before you can revise it. I do

review what I wrote the day before when I start writing, just to make sure

I’m still going in the same direction, and I may change a word or two. But

I don’t do any drastic revisions until I have a finished draft. I’ve even

been known to make major changes in a character halfway through a draft,

knowing I can go back later and set the character up in the first part of

the draft when I do my revisions. With the Promise Harbor series, we also

had the advantage of having three other authors to go over the book and
give us reactions. That definitely helped with revisions.


1 comment:

Melissa Keir said...

I love the idea of your series with the other writers. What a fun time and challenge too! All the best!