Notes on Writing: Character Development for the "Year 2038 Bug" Story

It’s time for the third chapter of my book along with a note about my writing. This chapter focuses on Marie Wilson, a semi-retired software developer. She and her husband Joseph live just outside of Boulder Colorado, in a house designed to be off the grid as much as possible. With her background in software, she believes in redundant systems so she and her husband are fine when the 2038 bug starts but who knows what will happen as time goes by and the bug isn’t fixed?

After I came up with the basic idea for the book, I needed characters to populate the story and provide different viewpoints. The first character I defined was Deidre, a young mom who would have to cope with the crisis. In defining this character, I didn’t want to fall back on a standard character of a young pregnant woman who didn’t have to cope with a small child. Or a tough young woman who can handle anything, a shy young woman who suddenly is able to work anything out when a crisis brings out her best side and she loses her glasses. I also wanted the opportunity to show her coping with a crisis while dealing with a young child. Deidre is also the only character in the book that does not have a background in software development so she can provide a common woman viewpoint that might be lacking otherwise. My challenge in developing her character will be avoiding the stereotypes of total focus on child and husband, leaning on someone else for help and other traits that reduce her depth.

Since software causes the 2038 bug and I have a background in software development I decided that most of the main characters are involved in this field. I plan to represent different viewpoints, including more experienced versus less experienced, free style hacker versus disciplined developer and male versus female developers. The characters will also show how other people may start to blame developers for the problem while they are trying to figure out how to fix things.

After coming up with this theme, I wanted to increase the diversity of viewpoints and present different philosophies that affect how each developer approaches the problem. Jake is a younger developer, experienced with a disciplined environment for development while reacting to sudden changes in requirements. Marie is older and has experience with free for all environments and what can go wrong if there aren’t controls. She has seen the evolution of personal computers,, World Wide Web, smart devi ces and other developments so she is very aware of what can go wrong and why redundancy can be important.

The next three chapters will introduce the rest of the main characters, including the antagonists of the story. As I have started to define those characters, I still want to avoid stereotypes and build characters that seem more like real people and not just people in a novel. It can be very easy to hate a villain but what that person has admirable qualities. What if the villain is someone you could like if they hadn’t made a poor choice? I want to remember these ideas as I write about these characters in the upcoming chapters.

While defining these ideas, I would start to picture the characters and jot notes about their basic characteristics. My character descriptions include their physical characteristics, personality, basic habits and motivations.  With these descriptions, if I have a question about how the character will act, I can refer to my notes and make sure they are consistent the description. Since I don’t have a detailed outline for the story, this helps my consistency in writing, at least somewhat. Fortunately, I am surrounded by nitpicking editors who will are glad to help me smooth out my very rough stories. :-)

While editing this chapter I reminded myself that this is a work in progress and these chapters are rough drafts.  I will be revisiting all of this when I am done and doing a polish edit. There are things missing and things that will change as the story takes shape. I know where I want to go but I’m not quite sure how my characters will get there. As things evolve, I suspect I will need to redo some of these scenes but for right now, I think they convey the story. This method also goads me into continuing to write in order to meet my self-imposed deadlines. It is all too easy to find shiny objects that I allow to distract me from what I want to do. I hope you enjoy, the next chapter will appear in August. That chapter will follow Brian Wilson, Deidre’s father who lives outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma. He will be a challenging character to write and I’m looking forward to it. Hope you enjoy! Year 2038 Bug – Chapter 3