Saturday, August 22, 2009

Writing Memorable Characters

Diane Craver, author of Whitney in Charge, who's joining us today, has agreed to share her insights on writing characters. She obviously has had a lot of experience with that because she's a multi-published author. Here's a bit about her latest release:

TV producer Whitney Benson is tired of her older sisters’ attempts to fix her up with every single male they meet. Shannon and Regan cross the line when they arrange for her to go skydiving with the simple excuse that more guys like to float in the air than women.

Whitney meets two eligible bachelors, Jack and Ben, who constantly battle for her affection. Which one will she choose? Both men make Whitney realize, even a heart shattered by her husband’s death, can once again be made whole.

But did she have to fall off a cliff to learn that?

Intriguing, right? So let's take a sneak peek at two of Diane's characters:

When the fireworks went off to celebrate a Reds homerun above the Ohio River, the crowd roared and clapped. Whitney let herself be caught up in the enthusiasm, jumping up from her seat to clap and whoop, cupping her palms around her mouth. She sat down, laughing, enjoying herself more than she had in a long time. When Jack had invited Whitney to go to a baseball game on Wednesday, she’d hesitated even though she loved going to the stadium. They’d just gone out Saturday night. She wanted to take things slow and easy. But, in the end, she’d said yes.

And she was so glad she did.

Who was she kidding? She wanted to wrap her arms around him and kiss him until neither one of them could think or breathe. But she couldn’t smother his lips with hers during a baseball game. She took a quick glance at Jack. Regan was right – he did look a lot like Matthew McConaughey. She wondered if McConaughey also loved baseball.

Jack tugged on her visor. “Hey, you look pretty cute in this cap.”

She took a bite of her nachos and cheese. “I like the eating part a lot at games.”

Jack glanced at the boy sitting a couple rows in front of them munching on a box of popcorn. The delicious aroma of popcorn and butter drifted up to them. “I might have to buy popcorn, too.”

“Please help me eat the nachos first.”

He dipped a chip in the cheese, popping it in his mouth. He smacked his fingertips between his lips, licking off the melted cheese and salt. “I wish you hadn’t paid for the beer.”

“You bought the tickets. I wanted to pay for something.” She licked warm cheese off her finger. “So did you rescue any cliff climbers today?”

“Nope. I only rescue beautiful women on Mondays.”

“I’ll have to remember that. Since the pool’s open now and if it’s not too cold, we can go swimming after the game.” Why did she blurt that invitation out to him? Could she handle him if he got too intimate? She hated taking a step forward, then a step back again, but she was just confused about what she wanted from Jack.

“I’ll have to go home to get my trunks first.”

“I have several suits in different sizes.”

Jack smiled at her. “Do you collect trunks from your guests?”

She laughed. “No. Unless my mom did. People used to drop in a lot, and she’d invite them to go swimming with us. They didn’t have their suits. Mom bought a few girls’ suits and women’s and men’s in different sizes.”

“Bases are loaded. Bring them home.” Jack patted her knee. “Isn’t this fun? I love the Reds.”

“You’re right. This is fun. I’m glad you─”

“Hey, the kissing cam’s on us.” Jack wrapped his arm around her shoulder and pulled her close, covering her mouth with his.

She’d forgotten how they had a kissing camera to zero in on couples and when it happened, the pair usually waved or kissed each other.

She enjoyed kissing Jack back and hated it when he stopped. “You didn’t need to stop because the camera’s no longer on us.”

“I don’t want to spoil you.”

It occurred to her why he wanted her to switch T-shirts before the game. “You gave me a Reds’ t-shirt to wear to increase our chances of getting on the kissing cam.”

He shrugged. “Ben already got you on TV when you fell. I had to get you on TV again. I didn’t want you to think I’m a slacker here. And I managed it without you falling out of your seat.”

“We can’t have you being a slacker.” She glanced down at her red shirt. “Do I get to keep this shirt?”

“Only if you get me a baseball cap like yours?”

“This one was my dad’s, but it’s a deal.”

So let's find out some of her secrets about how to write characters:

One of the hardest things to do in writing is to create characters that readers will care about, and will want to read on. You can have a well-written novel but if the editors, agents or readers don’t care that much about your characters, you won’t get very far.

A Memorable Character should have the following attributes:

1. A strong, independent personality.
2. Believable motivation.
3. Consistent behavior.
4. Imagination.
5. Courage to take the initiative.
6. A bigger-than-life image.
7. Human traits - good and bad.

The above traits will develop over the character’s life. In other words, a character usually doesn’t begin her or his novel life having all 7 attributes.

Each writer has their own system in creating their characters. I jot down as much information about each main character as possible - eye color, hair color, and write down a goal for each one. Some authors are more detailed in their approach and use a chart method, filling in vital information. Mine is more a narrative approach. You need to know your characters very well so that you can make them real to the readers.

Character description shouldn’t stop the action. The writer needs to convey description without stopping the flow. I try not to convey description by saying the character stopped and looked in the mirror at his or her appearance. Boring!

A pet peeve of mine is when a writer tries too hard to be different in naming their characters. If the names are hard to remember or I can’t pronounce them, I will become annoyed. But you don’t want to use Mary Doe or John Smith either. Poor usage of character names may signal an amateur writer. Switching between first and last names makes it hard for a reader to learn a new character. For example, referring to a character as “Mary Doe” in the first sentence, then “Mrs. Doe” in the second, then “Mary” in the third will confuse the reader, especially if there are many characters in the scene.

There are drives, strong feelings, and motivations that are common to all of us. We all need to be loved, to get recognition, and to know who we are. When any one of these basic drives is blocked, there is conflict. When you have conflict, whether it is physical, psychological, or spiritual, you have one of the fundamental elements of all fiction. Conflict is what drives fiction. Without conflict, there is no action or reaction.

I love to research occupations for my characters because it’s fun to write about jobs I have never had. Although I was a teacher before starting our family, Mallory is the only teacher I have for a main character. I’ve used teaching careers for secondary characters. I’ve gone to the library to get books on occupations used for characters, but I also have used the internet for a lot of my background information. I did buy a used book from Amazon on broadcasting for my Whitney in Charge book. I enjoyed reading how a TV program is produced.

It’s not good to launch into the story without stopping to establish any of the characters. In many “high concept” novels, a heated scene occurs immediately without the readers knowing anything about the characters. Readers have to know something about the characters to care what happens to them before the exciting scene happens. The characters are the plot - their needs, wishes, developments. Their introduction and establishment should be the most important. Introducing too many characters in the beginning pages will confuse the reader.

I pay close attention to those around me in my daily life. I remember any interesting or unusual traits or habits that I can use for my characters. Observation is important for a writer. Also what might be interesting to me may not be to someone else. I consider what makes a character intriguing to others. I try to avoid cliché traits and to create unique characters.

While reading or writing, what kind of characters do you enjoy the most?

Readers, answer Diane's question or just leave a comment about her book or this blog and you'll be in the running for a free copy of the book. And a bonus: All this week, I'm picking one commenter to win an e-copy of my book, Spark of Magic. Will YOU be one of the lucky winners? Leave a comment and see...


Diane Craver said...

Thank you for having me here today -
I really appreciate it! I'll check back later because sometimes people leave comments a day or so late. I noticed on a few blogs, I received comments after the date of the stop.

Have a nice Sunday!

Lily Stone said...

Hope you had a lovely trip!!