Kathleen Y’Barbo Turner mentioned on Facebook yesterday that her character, Sadie, wasn’t speaking to her. I nearly laughed out loud!
A memory hit me. A long, long time ago, I decided to take a class on writing romance. During that class, the teacher mentioned she thought it was ridiculous when a writer said she couldn’t get her character to do this or that. “After all, the writer is writing. She can make the character–a figment of her imagination–do anything she wants.”
I didn’t agree with the teacher then (I was too chicken to tell her, though) and now after writing umpteen manuscripts and selling three books, I still don’t.
Because when you create a character, you give them a certain history. They have a specific place in the sibling line up. They’ve had one set of experiences and have developed specific traits.
For a writer (well, this writer, anyway) her character is like having a living person in her life. They will surprise you from time to time, but they have to be true to who they are. They don’t have a choice and the writer doesn’t have a choice.
That character can’t suddenly morph a new characteristic or change from a loner to a social butterfly because the writer has written herself in a corner.
So how does a writer develop a character?
I’m not sure how the big boys do it, but here’s what I do. To make it easy on myself, I’ll use my book, MAKE ME HOWL (soon to be published) as an example.
BTW: There are some very intensive and excellent Character Fact Sheets out there, but I
can’t don’t use them. I have to think about my story and what specific things I need to know about my characters.
- Story Idea. What if some people were born werewolves because of a gene rather than being bitten by another werewolf? (After all, the first werewolf had to come from somewhere. Right?)
- Heroine. I like strong heroines, I made the werewolf of the story my heroine named Jazzy.
- Characteristics: What characteristics would a werewolf need? If a wolf became human, what would she want? As an animal, she’d definitely think about food. How she’d get places. And in this modern world, how to attack without physically attacking.
- Since Jazzy was born a werewolf, she’d be self-assured because, after all, she can take care of herself in just about any situation.
- And because it’s me writing this character, she’s snarky and tends to be a little mouthy. (I got to release my inner wolf!)
- Family? Jazzy has a twin sister who isn’t a werewolf. (Jazzy got the werewolf gene, her sister got straight hair, so it all evens out in the end.) Their parents are still living, but no grandparents, cousins, aunts or uncles in this story.
- Favorite food? Steak, nearly raw (wolves + food = raw meat. Right?)
- Car? Power! Small, fast, two seater.
- Career? She wouldn’t be able to tolerate having a boss telling her what to do all the time, she might have to eat his face, so I made her a very successful personal shopper in an ultra nice shopping center, who also acts as a buying office for some of the stores in the mall. (Sets her own hours and deals with large amounts of money–her own and others.)
- Hero. A hero has to match the heroine, so Chase is as strong a character as she is, if not stronger.
- Chase is smart, very determined, plain spoken but not as snarky. (Snarky is too girly for a great hero.)
- Career? Since Jazzy is a werewolf and loves being one, Chase has to be a veterinarian. A good character is part of the conflict, so he believes in werewolves and he’s doing research to wipe out the gene that causes it. 🙂
- Food? A good couple has a lot in common, so his favorite food is steak, rare.
- Car? He has a choice, since his family is extremely wealthy and his dad likes cars, they keep a full stable of them. 🙂
- Family? He’s the oldest, has three brothers and great parents. They live together but separately in houses that are next to each other.
There’s much more to a character’s character. Her life that she lived before the story starts has a lot to do with who she is. As Doctor Phil says, to predict the future, look at a person’s past. The interesting part about that is learning how to enhance the story with just that portion of her life only when we need to know. Never before. But the writer has to know it so she knows how the character will respond to things.
Now you see why Kathleen’s character wouldn’t speak to her. There’s something in her life that makes her very secretive. (I have a feeling it’s more than just a snoopy sister.) Now it’s Kathleen’s job to find out what it is.