How to Create Amazing Characters

Everyone wants to create those characters that have people talking about them long after they close the book; real people having real conversations about people that don’t exist—or…do they?(In my evil man voice)

Creating intriguing characters takes time but if the reader doesn’t care about who it’s happening to, at some point they will stop reading, no matter what is happening in the story.

So how do you create amazingly memorable characters? You can begin with physical descriptions but remember this is just your starting point. For example, you write that Bill has glassy eyes, and rotting teeth. Take it a step further. Are his eyes glassy because he’s ill? Does he drink heavily? Is he mentally ill? And if he’s mentally ill, has he been that way all of his life, or did he slip into a state after the death of his wife? If he drinks heavily is he an angry drunk? Is he generally a timid guy until he throws back a few? Is he a weepy drunk? What sets him off? Allow the character to emerge until you see him clearly and know him personally.

Create realistic dialog. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but well written dialog can paint vivid pictures. If you use accents they shouldn’t be contrived or force, make them as natural as possible. If you’re going regional as Kathryn Stockett did so well in The Help, either study the region or persons from that region. The last thing you want is for your character to sound like a cross between Andy Griffith and Robert De Niro, unless, of course, you’re actually going after something like this.

Also, use aspects of yourself to add depth and life to your characters. Reach past the friendly smile and pleasantries others see when they first meet you. Author, Anne Lamott says in her book on writing, Bird by Bird:

Look within your own heart, at the different facets of your personality. You may find a con man, an orphan, a nurse, a king, a hooker, a preacher, a loser, a child, a crone.

Yep, you may be all or some of the above (Look at it as cathartic. Here’s where you get it all out on paper without being arrested.) Delve within and you may be surprised by what you find.  Then develop characters that are as multi-faceted as you.

Your characters should not be one dimensional or predictable. Think of your characters in three dimensions: look, smell and feel. Evaluate this description from Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye as the author describes the Breedlove family:

The eyes, the small eyes set closely together under narrow foreheads…They had high cheekbones and their ears turned forward….You looked at them and wondered why they were so ugly; you looked closely and could not find the source. Then you realize it came from conviction, their conviction…It was as though some mysterious all-knowing master had given each a cloak of ugliness to wear…

If you read nothing else about this family you see and feel their soul in this passage, their very center. In your imagination you begin to drape flesh and bones upon their center; they become alive.

You probably won’t include everything you know about your characters in your novel, but the extra backstory will make it easier to give them authenticity. You will begin to feel and understand what moves, motivates and drives them. You will love some, and despise others, but most importantly you will know them, as will we.

Learning the Craft of Writing

Learning the Craft of Writing

After three novels and several short stories in several months my debut novel will be published. What a thrill, what a ride. Some may say: It took you three novels? Are you kidding! Yeah, I thought the same more times than you care to know. Yet, in retrospect I know that my first works were just a pouring out from my imagination without true direction. There was no real adherence to or study of the craft of novel writing.Plot & Structure

Then I prayed about it and God directed me to learn the craft. Yes, there are those who have written wonderful books without studying the art. To them I say, God bless. Happy trails. Yet, I believe to be truly good at this art form consistently, it is necessary to know the craft.

I began to read writers’ magazines and stumbled on articles about plotting, sub-plotting, theme, voice and such things. Great.  I hadn’t thought of any of this while I was hammering away at the keyboard. I knew that such fundamentals existed, but I reasoned I had read enough books to figure it out and everything necessary would somehow naturally emerge (It turned out this kind of reasoning was like believing I could make a good movie because I’d watched so many great ones. Wait for my remake of Glory.) I picked up a copy of James Scott Bell’s Plot & Structure and poured over it, highlighted areas and dog eared pages.  I became an avid reader of the Writer’s Digest magazine. I read certain articles repeatedly, searched out the meaning of voice, theme and plot; I compared writing in first versus third person and so on.

As I honed my techniques, I began to understand the parts of a novel and the way it unfolds. I wrote again. Another novel was born. But this time, because I didn’t know how to move a story along, this thing had a myriad of plots and they were going in so many directions the entire book got away from me. My reader probably would’ve given up halfway through the book–eyes crossed. Sigh. Patience is not my strongest virtue. But I patiently continued to work at it.

And finally, 2006 In Three Days was born as I sat in an office, out of work, seeking help. This time I started with the characters. I developed them until I knew them intimately. Not just their physical appearance, but their likes and dislikes, their personalities; what makes them do what they do, their walk, accents and inclinations. And then I worked it most every day, just a few pages consistently because I was working fulltime and had three kids to care for.  And now it is here. It is time. And I plan to enjoy the journey and the path on which God has set me.