Laura asked Claudia Zuluaga:

Do you completely flesh out your characters before starting on plot? How does that process work?

Claudia Zuluaga What a great question! I wish I could do that. It seems to me that if I could, I'd just have all these notes about my characters and then know exactly what they'd do, and the plot would just unfold because the characters would guide the process completely.

Instead, it's sort of a hybrid for me. I knew at the beginning, for example, that Ida was troubled, and that she was going to be stuck in this house. I didn't know the nature of her being troubled, and I didn't know why she was stuck in the house. I didn't know Ryan and Lloyd's conflict, but I knew that there was one. I didn't know why the two boys were running around without supervision, but I knew it wasn't a good thing.

I add plot as I learn more about the characters, and eventually, the two inform each other, but it is a very messy process. I have many drafts where everything feels like an embarrassing mess. For example, over and over, I'd say to my writing friend (and fellow Goodreads author), Sarah Yaw, 'I know Peter does x, y, and z, because I see it, but I don't really know why.'

So I will see the thing that happens, plot-wise, but I won't understand it. And even though I don't get it, I still take it seriously and give it authority. I see the images that come to me as gifts from the subconscious. Then, in trying to figure out why this thing might be happening, I get lots of other information, which helps me flesh out the character and the plot in other places. There are lots of surprises and prolonged moments of utter confusion, which makes it both exciting and exhausting.

I thought it might be the way I worked on my first novel, and that, once I was on to the second one, I'd know some deep secrets about the process. I'm a couple of years into my current novel (working title Hannah and the Ghosts) and I'm afraid that it is every bit as messy the second time around. I try to remind myself this: no discovery for the writer, no discovery for the reader (I've seen this quote attributed to both Twain and Frost - no idea who really said it).

Thanks for the question!

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