Okay, so I’ve probably mentioned before that I love Julia Donner’s Regency romances. Her newest will be available on May 31st, and I had the pleasure of beta reading it. Yowza! If it’s true that a story is as strong as the adversary the author created, then this one’s a winner. If I could have reached inside the pages and strangled Vincent, I would have. And an American hero in a Regency romance? Double points for Max!
Anyway, I liked this book so much, I asked Julia Donner to write a guest blog for today. And since she comes up with such strong characters in her stories, that’s what she chose to write about. Here, then, is Julia Donner’s advice about creating characters:
WHAT A CHARACTER!
If asked, would you know what flavor ice cream your protagonist prefers? Do you care? Is this important? Only if it’s important to you as the storyteller or it influences the plot. Sometimes, something as simple as food preference will resonate with a reader.
The storyteller must know the heart and soul of their characters. The late Suzanne Simmons defined the process as knowing what the character wants, why they want it and what they will do to achieve that goal. If you are writing a character-driven story, an entire plot will hinge on those three questions If it’s plot-driven, those questions answer how your character will respond to plot events and incidents.
My background is in theater. Characters come to me whole. It’s the only way I can describe it. When I see the character in my mind, I know their preferences for everything from cars to clothes, food, to the type of pet they’d have. I know how they will respond to any situation, and most importantly, their weaknesses, fears, and deepest yearnings, for this is the stuff that makes a character real and helps the reader to identify with what is on the page.
Let’s be real. Perfect people are boring. One-dimensional people are nice, make terrific, easygoing friends, but they’re not as interesting in a story as a morality-challenged nun. Which would you rather read about?
Here’s an example of creating believable traits. Ask yourself how well you know your character. Dig deep. Would he or she lie? If a compulsive liar, how did they get that way? And what if a main character, who swears he’d never tell a lie, is forced to fib? How do we show the physical responses, other than shifty eyes, on the page?
Two, former CIA guys delved into the nitty-grits about lies and types of lies and wrote a book about it. They say there are “smart lies” we all tell. Being guys, and during a NPR interview, one says a smart lie is what a husband should say when his wife asks him if he likes her new outfit or haircut. They agree that they’d compliment the wife, whether they liked it or not. But I think, if they were really smart, they would physically demonstrate their reply with a hug, kiss or something interesting whispered in her ear. Then, through action, it becomes believable. In writing, and often in real life, showing is better than telling.
Have I digressed? What was the purpose of the previous example? How “smart” is your character? Does he care enough to make the effort to ensure his wife believes? Does he believe it himself? These are questions the writer must ask in order to create a layered personality. If it were a romance, a little scene like that could be a perfect setup for a seduction. Or a mystery. What if the guy is more than just smart and is playing along the wife he plans to kill?
There are many ways to create character. Background is key—family and environment, hardship or plenty in childhood. Notice how your friends or family members act during different situations and imagine how your character would react based on the family history you’ve developed. Families also tend to have the same gestures and expressions, verbal and physical.
Always keep in mind that most of what moves a story forward is how the character reacts, often to the messes they’ve made on the way to getting to their goal. The bigger the mess, the more tension. The next book in my regency series has Agnes exhibiting behaviors that annoyed one of my critique partners. The character’s inability to overcome her weaknesses was an integral part of the story/plot line, so that when Agnes finally grows a pair, we can cheer.
We, as readers, want to know there are others out there with warts and problems similar to our own, to see them kick the crap out of an enemy, overcome evil, or wrestled down hideous problems and come out standing strong, maybe bruised, but always wiser.
It is essential that by the end of the story your character has changed or learned something important about themselves. This can come through events in the plot or an epiphany that might seem trivial to someone else. Most often, these changes come through BBM (big, black moment) or an event that forces the character to confront what needs to be changed or rectified. The ubiquitous adage of “that which does not kill us makes us stronger” often applies in many instances in life and in the stories we read. In the end, the character has learned, is stronger, has survived. Maybe even found happiness. I don’t know about you, but that’s what I call a satisfying conclusion.
An American for Agnes, book 10 in the regency-set Friendship Series, is now available for pre-sale and will be released on May 31st 2017.
I also posted a snippet from AN AMERICAN FOR AGNES on my webpage. You can find it here: http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/
Happy writing, and hope you have a wonderful Memorial Day!