Do not laugh at my drawing skills, I have a reason for subjecting you to them.
Meet Dinah, my avenging angel from Premeditated. (no, not a literal angel)
I quick sketched this over two years ago. Obviously, it's not finished or the cleanest image, and it's not exactly something you'd see hanging in the Met, but this is how I work a lot of the time. I'm a visual person, even if I have to create those visuals myself.
Sometimes, I do it with clip art, and make covers, like the one I did for Arclight a while back. And sometimes, I drag out my trusty Mirado #2 Black Warrior and a piece of paper. If I have a visual, it's easier for me to see the person in a story as real.
When I drew the picture at the top of this post, I didn't know who she was, only that she had a story to tell. I didn't even know her name was Dinah. In fact, I thought this was a picture of Johnnie, an oft-jostled foster child from another story. I tried to make her be Johnnie, but she refused to comply.
This is the point where people who don't write on a regular basis start to make strange faces and question my sanity, but if you're a writer, you know what I mean. Our characters are their own kind of real; they have dimension and texture, and they can refuse to do the things we tell them to do. They don't float on white paper (believe it or not, that piece of paper was white when I scanned it in), they inhabit a world of their own.
When Dinah first appeared as a character, and after I'd accepted that she wouldn't let me shoe horn her into the story I thought she fit, I did the usual writer things. I asked her questions.
Who are you?
She said she wouldn't tell me.
I asked her again.
She said she was a whisper in the dark.
I asked her again.
She said she was a secret sworn to keep herself.
Do I mean I literally heard a voice say these things? No. What I mean is that there was more to the character than the obvious, and it took me almost two years to get it out of her.
She's wearing a private school uniform, so I thought she went to private school, but again, she said "not really". Her posture's self-protective, which is where the part about secrets and being in the dark came from. She's obviously hiding something, including herself, in the way she's crouched behind the stairs.
On her hands, she wears fingerless gloves, not a part of your usual prep-school uniform. She's got that little chain around her ankle that had to mean something (it took quite a while to realize that was a bird on the end), and she doesn't have a tie on or bother to button the top buttons of her blouse. She's not a conformist, and knowing that added another dimension. I started to understand what she meant by "not really" being a private school girl.
Other clues came through. The haunted look in her eyes, the lack of a smile on her face, even the way the wind's blowing, like she doesn't feel it. This girl wasn't just hiding, she was numb.
If you read this blog, you know I generally write Paranormal / Fantasy, and it's usually a darker shade. So I thought "Ah ha!" She's a ghost! She's some poor dead girl who's got some unresolved issues. That's why she's sad!
I asked her if she was dead.
She said no, she wasn't, but someone was.
A hint of a name came through - Claire. I thought it was her name. Everything about her was wrapped around the name Claire, so it made sense. The early draft of the story has her named Claire, but I was wrong. I was looking at it from the wrong angle.
Her whole life is wrapped around Claire, but Claire isn't her. Claire's her cousin.
If you read the query I sent to Query Shark, you know I wrote it with the names under my original assumption, but now that I know better, a few things make more sense as I shift them around in the MS.
Dinah, for one (and this was an accidental bit of dovetailing) means Vindication and Judge. That's definitely the most fitting name I could have come up with for this girl. Claire means Bright White and Celestial - also perfect for the idealized way she sees her cousin.
The reason it was so hard to get a lock on who Dinah was, and what was getting me mixed up in the writing, is that she didn't know, either. She'd made herself disappear when things at home got bad, and then she disappeared again when she assumed the identity of a private school girl to avenge her cousin.
She was lost, hiding in the dark, and it was my job to find her.
That's your job, too, if you're a writer. You have to find your characters and coax them out into the light. You have to make them trust you enough to spill their secrets. And you cannot betray that trust by making them do things counter to their nature.
Maybe you draw pictures like I do, maybe you don't, but you should still have a vivid image of who your characters are -- and so should your readers. (See, I told you there was point.)