Our characters are a part of us. We create them, yes, but they take on a life of their own as we write our story. Well – I know many non-writers might question that comment and wonder if I’m not a bit left of center! J
I invite my characters to go in their own direction – to respond in their own way. In other words, I want them to be who they are. If they are the swearing type – swear. If they are self-centered or the type that wants to give the house away – so be it.
I always have a sense for who my characters are. I’ve just started writing book number fifteen, a suspense, Thunder. The background is wrestling – not exactly a subject or field I’m all that familiar with, but one thing I do know – the WWE is prominent in the Nothing But Nets program, providing Africa mosquito nets to prevent insect bites which may cause malaria. After reading that information – the ‘what if’ or ‘suppose . . . ’ started crowding my mind - you know what I mean.
What if this campaign had something to do with the murder of Blackfeet wrestler, Thunder (Keme), my hero’s twin brother? Mingan (Gray Wolf) doesn’t believe his brother committed suicide and he is going to prove it. Now I didn’t want my hero and his twin to be identical – I want them to be opposites – maybe not even talking to each other at the time of Thunder’s death. Why? It adds more conflict.
Let’s discuss this for a moment. When I first started writing – it was difficult for me to add too much conflict. Come on – I’m a Libra – l love harmony and the scales balanced. Conflict just isn’t my thing. So I started creating characters that were too nice, very few flaws, and were willing to resolve their conflicts as quickly as possible. Dull! Boring!
Come on folks – our characters must be flawed! (Do you know anyone – anyone - who is perfect in real life? I’d like to say that’s me – but in all honesty – it’s so far from the truth!) Our characters must face some serious choices; whether they choose wisely or not – it must affect or develop the character. We must see changes in our characters and they must learn something along the way. Even our villains must face their demons – whether it changes them or not – that’s up to them.
Back to creating convincing and captivating characters. What a character looks like is pivotal to a successful story. His physical attributes and flaws are part of how he functions. Say your hero has a lisp or a limp. What if he is insecure about a hair-lip and he attempts to cover it with a mustache? Did you know that is true about Stacy Keach? See real characters have real insecurities and real baggage. Bring out those flaws – they are critical in explaining what makes your character feel, respond, and or shut-down as he does.
We fall in love with his muscular bronze chest, his full lips, and we even are drawn to the way his black, shiny hair is braided and adorned with eagle feathers. He’s a manly man and we want to follow him into the dark room, the tense training facility, and even into the bedroom – heck especially into the bedroom.
Again – remember to give him flaws. Maybe he has a temper. My Mingan has issues with non-whites ignorance of his Blackfeet heritage. He has a chip on his shoulder. Will he lose that chip – I don’t know – he hasn’t shown me what he’s capable of yet. Will he fall in love with a non-white? I’m not sure – Chloe wants nothing to do with him, especially since she was engaged to Thunder. Will he allow her into his confidence and allow trust to develop? Right now he thinks she’s part of the reason his brother is dead. You see – I know that I want Mingan to find his brother’s killer and I’m hoping he’ll allow Chloe into his heart – but it’s going to take pages for them to consider the possibilities. In the meantime they are searching for Thunder’s three year old daughter, Nuttah (My Heart), who disappeared the very day of Thunder’s murder.
Truth be told – I’m starting chapter two. I have a good idea of my characters Mingan and Chloe, but how they develop and react during the story is up to them. I’m sure they’ll make some mistakes – some costly – but life just keeps throwing them curves. If it were a perfect world – it would truly be boring.
We want our characters to be loving, memorable and someone who can surprise us – in other words – they just might have a secret. They must have a deep need or goal (Mingan needs to expose his brother’s killer) and the desire and ambition to go after the truth. Our characters must keep us guessing, maybe shock us, and don’t forget we want to see some vulnerability. I never want my characters to be predictable. The conflict must sustain our interest from beginning to end.
Compelling characters are exciting, capricious, and take us where we’re afraid to go. They often take us to places we wish we could go – and through their story, we experience the tension, the quest, and even the passion.
Consider this - you have an endless example of characters all around you. Family, friends, foes, and even strangers. Think about the character in your book – who do you know resembles this character you’re writing about? Draw on that person – see them in your minds-eye and develop a well-rounded individual in your book. This is a great way to make sure you cover all the good and bad traits for your characters.
Let’s not forget to tap the emotional side of our characters. Does your hero have fears? Not just fear of heights or fear of snakes. What about the fear of loving, the fear of a loved one dying, or the fear your loved one will cheat on you? What makes your character happy? Is it the Cockapoo waiting at the door or the angora purring in his lap? Both add personality and appeal.
What is that underlying ‘secret’ that keeps your character from committing? Maybe he didn’t listen or believe his brother – and now he’s dead. Perhaps he has suspicions that his three year-old niece was in danger, but he dismissed them – and now she’s missing? Guilt is a mighty strong emotion to give your character. Others might be shame, the unwillingness to forgive, pride, jealousy, and even lust.
We want our characters to take us places and feel with them and care. . . laugh with them . . . cry with them . . . fear for them . . . love with them . . . and when it’s all over . . . be satisfied with them when the journey is over.