I was fresh out of blog ideas until I got some feedback from some friends. One suggestion was that I discuss how I create characters for my novels. So here we go.
First and foremost, I will tell you that I have a very hard time creating female characters who have a different voice than mine. It’s so easy to “speak” through my characters and give them personality traits that I have and understand. But to create a totally different character who is nothing like myself, that takes some work. For example, Libby from the Flesh & Blood Trilogy was a lot like me. She was a paralegal and her outlook on life was much like my own. She was easy to create and write scenes for. We had been through a lot of similar situations, so it was not hard at all to write her reactions and responses. Of course, as the story progressed, she became her own character because I obviously have never been accused of murdering my husband and my father is definitely not a serial killer.
But let’s look at Oliva Rockford from my Confessions series. She is nothing like me. She’s a DEA agent, quick on her feet, witty, and highly intelligent (although I do consider myself rather intelligent, too). She finds herself in a situation I would never find myself in and she breaks some unwritten moral rules to be with the man she has fallen for. Her character was a bit harder to write. I had to do a lot of research when writing her scenes, especially when it came to the motorcycle gang. All I knew about MC’s was what I learned on Sons of Anarchy (which inspired this book, obviously).
Research is a big part of creating a new and different character. Of course, we all know that most of the information we need is at the tip of our fingertips via Google. But there are other ways to research. With Libby, since she becomes a private investigator, I reached out to a PI that I know personally and worked with him on some of the nuances of her new profession. With Olivia, I talked to some friends who ride bikes. And, yes, I did watch reruns of SOA to help out some, too. Don’t just limit yourself to Google research. Get out there and talk to people and get to know your character more personally.
Now, with my newest character, Daisy (Palmer) Maxwell, she’s the product of abusive parents who lives in a tiny hole-in-the-wall community in eastern Kentucky. She grew up poor and never knew what it was like to be loved by her parents, or any adults, for that matter. This is completely foreign to me. I grew up in the suburbs with nice, normal, attentive, and loving parents. I don’t have a clue what it’s like to grow up like she did and overcome those obstacles to create a better life for myself. But I can relate to having goals and doing what you can for yourself and your children. Daisy is the most difficult character I’ve written, but I was surprised when I realized she’s quickly becoming my favorite one so far. Although I’m going to do some pretty horrible things to her before the book is over, I care about her and I want her to triumph in the end.
These characters we write should be like family to us. We should know them inside and out. Know their quirks, their flaws, their achievements and their failures. We might have to put them through some pretty terrible things to create the story we want to tell, but I believe that caring about your MC is essential to doing him/her justice and creating a story that readers will be able to identify and sympathize with.
Finally, I will talk about the hardest thing I’ve tried (notice I say “tried”) to do lately. That is, to write outside your gender. I’ve written twelve novels to date and every single one has a female protagonist. Why? Because I’M a female. I know how they think, how they move, how they feel, how the love, how they act, etc…I have no idea how a man thinks or feels. Earlier this year, I started a novel with a male MC named Max Turner (B. Maxwell Turner). He’s an attorney, a widower, and a father. This is way, way out of my comfort zone. Which may go a long way toward explaining why I haven’t gotten past chapter three. So while I can talk all day long about creating believable a nd relatable characters, I’ll be the first to admit, I have my struggles, too. With what I’ve written so far in that novel, I asked my husband tons of questions about a man’s mannerisms, personality traits, movements, thoughts, etc. He helped quite a bit, and I have a feeling that if I ever do get around to finishing that novel, my husband might as well be listed as co-author on the damn thing.
All in all, create characters that you have strong feelings about, even if it’s an unreliable narrator and a shady character. They have feelings, too. Research, talk to people, and whenever you write something about your character, step back and ask yourself if his/her reaction to a certain situation is plausible, believable, and realistic. The main goal is to make the readers feel as strongly for your MC as you do. If you accomplish that, then you’ve done your job and done it well.