INTERVIEW: KATHERINE DUNN
Your novel Geek Love has some of the most interesting and compelling characters I've ever encountered in sentences and paragraphs. What are the first steps you take in creating the characters in your stories?
Asking questions. For me the first question is often about desire because that’s an engine that drives action. Who would want this situation or result? Or, what would this particular person want? All the rest grows out of that question-- What their background is, what they look like, wear or eat for breakfast, how they try to achieve their desire, how they react to the results. The fun is in avoiding the off-the-rack item, going for the meticulously layered and tailored specimen who grows and is revealed in the material of the story. The trick is to imagine what it’s like to be him, to see through his eyes.
In a 2010 New York Times interview, you humorously quipped that "there should be unemployment insurance for fictional people." How do you know when it's time to cut a character from something you're writing?
Occam’s Razor, which I define roughly as, “Simplest Is Best.” If I discover that a character’s function in the story is unnecessary or can happen more directly without him, I fire him. Sometimes it takes me a long time to realize this, so the severance can be painful and messy.
What advice would you give a beginning writer about the importance of building strong characters?
You don’t have to like them but you have to be interested in and by them. If you aren’t interested, the reader won’t be, either. If a character isn’t interesting, you haven’t had enough fun creating him.
KATHERINE DUNN’s third novel, Geek Love, was a finalist for the National Book Award.