There are three sorts of writers. Plotters, who come up with the plot first, then write their characters to follow it. Pantsers, who kind of grip to the edge of their seat and watch what happens. And Artistés, who develop characters that become so real they refuse to do what we want them to.
Storytellers got 21 rewrites and took me 26 months to write, because I haven’t learned yet what sort of a writer I was. I had my plot, a few important characters, and multiple stick figures. When my editor said to me “the only differences between your female characters are whether they’re pregnant or not” I felt, as a noted feminist, that there was a massive challenge in front of me. But when I started giving them personality traits, they stopped doing what I wanted them to.
Guðrún no longer wanted to devote her life to being a figure in the background whose task was listening to others. She turned out to be assertive, fun, selfish, strong, and didn’t suffer fools gladly. Once she started talking and acting, the other characters needed to become alive as well. Including the fools. Mannerisms, clothes, duties, habits, attention to hygiene, attitude towards religion, neuroticism… In the meantime I had a plot, or thought so. Things kept going out of control until I figured everyone out, even characters that only appeared once for approximately 15 seconds. Only then the pile of paragraphs finally started feeling like a book.
This was my first clue that I was going to be an Artisté, but I didn’t know that yet. I just thought I had no idea what I was doing. (That was true.)