Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Author Guest Post: Talking Characters with Jo Treggiari

You guys all know how character oriented I am, from what plays the biggest role for me in a book to what I want to know from an author. So when I had the chance for Ashes, Ashes author Jo Treggiari to guest post my blog, I immediately wanted something character related. And let me say, she didn't disappoint, sending over an awesome post all about how her characters come about. Whether you're a reader or a writer, check this one out because it's definitely interesting!

Most often when I begin writing something new, I start with the protagonist. The process is pretty vague at the beginning. Usually I can’t really pinpoint an ‘aha’ moment, it’ll be a swirl of ideas and pictures and thoughts swimming around in my head for days or months. I take lots of long walks and that’s usually when my conscious mind or my subconscious mind taps me on the shoulder and say ‘hey, why don’t you write something about so and so, or such and such?” A lot of ideas are discarded or re-shelved but if there comes a moment when I have a super clear image in my head of a girl or a boy or a dog or whatever, then usually a story can unfold from there.

With ‘Ashes, Ashes’ it was a variety of things. I’d been reading a lot about global warming. My young kids were enduring a plethora of vaccinations. I was intrigued by my 2 year old daughter’s fearlessness, and most importantly one of my oldest and dearest friends had almost died in the Indian tsunami of December 26th 2004. She was swept out to sea and endured over 72 hours of pain and terror before being rescued. Afterwards she questioned her bravery, and that made me start thinking about bravery and cowardice and trying to do the right thing even when we’re scared.

Once I had a pretty clear idea of my main character, Lucy, who was drawn from all the places writers draw from – themselves, friends, strangers, imagination…etc, the other characters sort of fell into place. I knew what kind of boy I wanted Aidan to be- truly himself, fearless in a different kind of way but full of doubts too. And I had a lot of fun writing Del who is a complex character as well and has to make certain moral choices different from the ones Lucy makes, and then live with them. I hope that the dimensions in my characters are clear. Grammalie Rose, the oldest member of the scavenger camp and the person who keeps everyone together, is loosely based on my Italian nonna, although I made Grammalie Polish and a little more sarcastic. The fighter Leo was inspired by my old boxing trainer, who is pretty much the most noble person I have ever known.

Once I have a general idea of my main characters I write out sketches for them- anything from what they like to eat and wear to how short their tempers are. But often when I am writing, my characters deviate from my outline. It’s one of my favorite parts of being an author. I really feel that my characters have begun to live and breathe once they start thinking and acting for themselves even if they sometimes take over the plot.

Thank you, Jo, for sharing that! I admit you've got me thinking about my own characters now, too....

Make sure you guys check out Ashes, Ashes and meet Lucy, Auden, Del and the rest of Jo's characters, out June 1!


  1. Wow! This sounds like such an awesome book! I'm adding it to my TBR pile!!!!!!

  2. This is a very good piece, Jo! :) And it really helped me. As of now, I'm in the "swirl of images and ideas" phase of my writing. I think I'll do what you did - walk - and combine all the ideas in my head. I'm loving your characters already! Aidan!

  3. Thanks Precious and Alyssa!
    Glad it helps. It's amazing what ideas can come if you just stop concentrating so hard. It sort of frees your mind up. As well as taking long walks (make sure to always have a pen and paper or you'll end up with notes scrawled all over your arms!), washing the dishes always gives me 'aha' moments.