When I began writing DUST, I knew my main characters (Karen and Jerry), the plot of the story, the ending—and not much else. I always pictured novelists outlining each chapter before writing it, but that's not what happened with me. I just sat at the computer each morning and wrote. The words poured out, often without me knowing what was going to happen. The characters themselves determined the action.
Recently I read an interview with famed author Elmore Leonard who described his writing process in a similar way, saying he makes it up as he goes along and his characters let him know what comes next. So I've got good company! Here's the link to his comments: http://www.aarpmagazine.org/people/leonard_making_it_up.html
I was part of an Authors' Panel a few months ago and a man in the audience brought up the subject of characters, saying novelist Stuart Woods was asked why his books had so much foul language. Woods' response was that he didn't curse; his characters did.
I understand exactly what Stuart Woods meant. It's almost as if the characters I write about have their own lives. Often, much to my surprise (and sometimes to my annoyance), the characters say and do things I don't expect. But not knowing exactly what will happen makes the writing experience much more entertaining!
I visualize the characters in my novels as actors performing their roles on a stage or movie screen. However, last month, a fellow writer on Facebook had a different take on the subject. He said his characters were real people he would never meet, not actors or actresses.
I'm not sure there's much of a difference between our two viewpoints. Even though I imagine my characters as actors, I still think of them as real people. In DUST, for example, Karen is still Karen, no matter which actress is playing her, and Jerry is still Jerry. Visualizing them as current movie stars just makes them more real to me.
If you're one of the 25% of the population who thinks as I do and visualizes book characters as actors, check out this website and cast roles for DUST--or any other favorite novel: http://www.storycasting.com/work.aspx?id=4f9a2b40-3d60-4dc7-bc16-f2440184b4b7
Do I continue to think about my characters after I finish a novel? The answer is "no." I think about the characters continually throughout the writing, editing, and revision processes, which can be very lengthy. However, when the book is completely done, so are my characters. With DUST, it's like Karen and Jerry finished playing their roles, bowed to the audience (readers), and walked off the stage—forever.
Maybe that's why, unlike some other writers, I don't envision my novels as series or sequels. When a book is finished and the final curtain falls, it really is "The End."
Susan's Facebook group page for DUST is http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=96392594143