Writing Real Characters
So, lately I’ve not been here, on my blog, because I am trying to get the final edits to CRUEL SUMMER done, so you can get your hot little hands on Kian, Ana, and MJ on March 16th, 2015 at the Girl Power Author Panel (deets to come). But I needed to squeeze in some time to address a few things because, quite honestly, I have the MOST AWESOME EVER FANS. OMG – it blows my mind! I can’t ever tell them thank you enough!
Okay – actually, they aren’t MY fans (I’m fairly boring and steal clothes from my fourteen year old daughter’s closet). They are mad fans of MY CHARACTERS, which is WAAAAYYYY more important. No seriously – it is.
People are posting left and right that they are re-reading Undertow and Stormfront for the second, third – hell, sometimes FOURTH time. That every time they read it, they like it more and find more “trinkets” buried in the books (and, oh man, are there a lot of trinkets).
Because I write a series of books built on the same characters, I know that I better create characters that readers adore, or they aren’t going to want to continue with the series. But for fans and reviewers to be re-reading the books?? WOW! I am so EXCITED! And my books are sizable – heck, CRUEL SUMMER is actually a NOVEL (not a novella) and STORMFRONT could be used as a weapon, it’s so heavy (112,000 words if you’re wondering). TRUE NORTH will be a beast as well. I’m terrified of writing that one, not because of its size, but because of the stakes at hand.
I never, EVER want to disappoint my readership, and I’ve hit that point where I want each new novel to out-do the last. I want to give readers that epic story, and that weighs on me often.
Some days, the doubt feels bigger and heavier than Kian’s yacht.
And though the entire story was always set (I knew the last scene from day 1), getting these very real characters to that point, is a hair-pulling experience. Plus, the Undertow story web is so complex, it looks like a street map of Boston’s downtown. And keeping track of all those zillions of little trinkets that I’ve placed throughout the story are starting to melt my brain.
And yes – CRUEL SUMMER adds to that complex, trinket-ridden web in very sneaky ways.
Even worse, I’ve found out a bit late that if you write character driven stories, sometimes the characters mutiny and TAKE OVER THE F-ING story!! Eila, Ana, Raef, Kian, and MJ all have fans because they act like real, fully developed people. They have personalities, ways of talking, motivations, flaws, fears, love, and hate. They even have mannerisms and a set style. And just like a REAL person, you can’t force someone to do something.
In interviews, people have asked how I came up with the characters. The answer is simple: I started with a set of personalities that didn’t work well together and forced them to cooperate:
Content People Watcher (EILA)
In Your Face Loner (ANA)
The Quiet Craftsman (RAEF)
Self-Centered Money (KIAN)
Goofy, Loyal Friend (MJ)
I assigned names to those traits, and from there, I built out the characters.
The clash of who they are as people, is what makes them so real. I then place them into an adventure that tests those traits and forces them into positions that are in conflict with who they are morally and psychologically. I do this FOR EVERY character that appears in the series. It’s a time-consuming process (darn ‘ye, Psych degree!)
To build REAL characters, you can’t just throw personality traits at them and hope they stick. You need to know WHY they act a given way, not just within the story, but from the day they are born. We humans are a result of both nature and nurture – what traits we are born with and how our environment impacts the person we become. But those core traits, the ones we are born with, dictate HOW we react in a given situation. Basically I assign a Zodiac sign to each character.
I then write out all the scenes I see happening to each character and place them on index cards, with one card in the middle that gives me the climax. From there, I work backwards, setting the story up in reverse.
This series has been a test of my sanity, but I am propelled forward by those readers who adored the story. I keep pushing the limits because of the fans, seeking an epic adventure that will be re-read and handed-off for years to come. And I vow to always do my best – by the story, the characters, and my readers.
My goal is simple: to leave the reader screaming for more.
Check our reviewer Ann Quinn’s awesome YouTube review of UNDERTOW!