How the write, take 2 -- Mary Jo Putney


Written on Thursday, May 28, 2009 by haleigh

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Up today on our "How they write" series -- Mary Jo Putney. This is from an interview from the website Crescent Blues. The whole interview has tons of good info for anyone who's a fan of her characters!

How she writes:

Crescent Blues: How do you create characters whose strengths and weaknesses complement each other to achieve transformation? (Is it a conscious process, or does one character suggest its own complement?)

Mary Jo Putney: As you suggested, it's usually a matter of developing one character who is the natural complement of the other, so that it will be convincing that these two people are right for each other as no one else could be. Or if I start a book with a plot idea, the characters must be ones who will explore the potentials of that plot as well as suit each other.

Crescent Blues: Which comes first for you: the hero, the heroine or the plot?

Mary Jo Putney: It can be any of the three, though it's more likely to be the hero or the plot than the heroine.

Crescent Blues: How does the story grow from there? (Are you a linear writer, an outliner, a plug-n-play?)

Mary Jo Putney: I'm very linear. I start at the beginning and inch my way through to the end. If I don't know what happens next, I tread water and edit until I figure out how to proceed. I can't even imagine writing in pieces and stringing them together; to me, the writing process is organic, with each section growing out of what happened previously.

Crescent Blues: Do you decide the story's issue in advance or does it develop from your characters?

Mary Jo Putney: It's a combination of both. I suppose that if I start with a plot, I also have a sense of the issue. Whereas if I start with a character, the issue grows out of him.

Crescent Blues: Who's in control, you or your characters?

Mary Jo Putney: Me, without question. I think that anyone who says the characters took over really means that they didn't know them well enough at the beginning. Once you know them inside and out, they don't surprise you.

I find this interesting, especially the last part. My characters seem to come alive and take over part way through the book. I'm not sure if it's because I don't know them well enough before I start, or if I just need them on paper to really get a sense of them. What do you think?

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  1. Jessica |

    Her last comment was interesting. I don't know. I've never felt like a character took over, but I know I haven't known them well at the beginning either.
    Now you've given me something to chew on. LOL

  2. haleigh |

    Hi Jessie! I feel the same way. There's definitely been times I haven't known the characters well enough until toward the end, and it becomes very obvious when I need to go back and re-write early scenes. The difference is shocking!


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