Posted On April 9, 2010 by Print This Post

Setting as Character: An Interactive Approach

Good morning and welcome to Chaos of Theory of Writing! Today, our Visiting Professor has a split personality–Jade Lee and Kathy Lyons. The persona I got to know was Jade Lee. I met her through an RWA conference CD, and it was love at “first sight.” Yep, you heard me right. I listened to her Setting as Character workshop while putting on my makeup, while showering (talk about intimate!), and while driving to work. And there’s still more I need to absorb! So folks, get out your pen and paper or get ready to hit the print button ’cause you’re going to reference this article over and over. Please be sure to read on. Jade/Kathy has set this blog up to be interactive and fun! Oh, did I mention she’s generously giving away one of her books? 🙂

Without further ado, here’s Jade/Kathy!

What do these three things have in common: a castle on a moonlit moor, the dining room on the Titanic, and a big Texas ranch next to a small Texas town? Well, nothing except that they are settings that immediately evoke a mood. And in romance, they also pull in a host of clichés. So how do you make your setting bring in mood, dimension, and realism to your story without resorting to badly done clichés?

By realizing that your characters aren’t just people moving around in your plot or your setting. They have internal drives that expand who they are. Buffy doesn’t just hunt vampires, she’s an adolescent who wants what adolescent girls do: popularity, a boyfriend, and the freedom to goof off and go shopping. So how is she going to react when she walks into the school library and sees all those dark corners in the stacks, the long wood tables covered with huge books, and a British librarian who is trying to hand her a sharpened stake? I know how I would react. My first thought would be that this is not the mall which is where I really want to be right now! It’s dark and dusty and filled with corners that have possibilities for making out if only I had a boyfriend! And if this horrible British guy with the glasses has his way, I never will have a boyfriend! I’ll be stuck here doing research until I look just like him! (In my world, adolescent girls always think in exclamation points!)

The same setting from Giles’ perspective (the British librarian) would reflect his internal drives for order, the need for adequate information to fight demons, and of course, the longing for a bit of Britain. So, when walking to this library, he would probably notice that it was too small to be adequate for their needs. He would look for a place to hide his weapons. And he would look at Buffy and think, what an air-head American blonde.

By the way, perceptive viewers might notice that the high school library doesn’t actually look like anything in California. They like sunlit breezy architecture out west. But as it is Giles’ domain, it’s more like a British Hogwarts library than any California high. And that brings me to my second point. Settings need to reflect whomever “owns” it. Time to start looking at your own characters. Each of your main characters needs a place that reflects him or her. Not just their primary task: catching a husband, running a ranch, or shooting the terrorist. It has to reflect their internal precepts.

Now that word “precepts” is awkward because most people don’t understand exactly what it means. In this context, it means the rules which drive them. For example, a historical husband hunting miss is focused on catching a man. But what if underneath all that need to find a husband is a belief that it’s not possible for her to find love. And to replace the void created by that hole, she’s developed an addiction to *insert hobby here*. It could be science or dress styles or dolls. It could be trying to control her brother or working on her garden. Whatever the hobby it has to be seen in her environment, but it also needs to reflect the underlying void. She grows roses because they are symbol of love. She controls her brother because if she can’t have love, she’s damn well going to have financial security. Or she creates stunning dress designs to make a woman beautiful enough to find love.

So how would her setting reflect that? Well, start at the top and work down. Something to indicate she’s on the hunt for a husband. That’s easy. Dresses, dance cards, whatever. Then add a huge area for whatever her hobby is. And then, lastly, insert something to hint at the underlying belief. She spends a lot of time putting together an arrangement of flowers for a couple who are in love. Beneath the science equipment is a gypsy love charm. Or she keeps her mother’s engagement ring hidden from her brother not because it’s valuable (he’ll hock it) but because her parents were really in love. And, naturally, the hero is the only one who sees that one thing. He’s the one who figures out her true thoughts.

I could go on with more examples, but I’ve only got so much room here. Just keep in mind that each setting needs to reflect its owner. That’s POINT 1 for those who need an outline! And then POINT 2 is that the POV character needs to see it per his/her own peculiar precepts. Entering our heroine’s hobby place, our hero sees what? Well, first ask: what are his internal precepts? Maybe it’s that women do not have logical minds, therefore he would see every bit of clutter beneath the orderly scene. And he will pounce upon whatever little tidbit it is that reflects her need for love, then hold it up as proof that underneath she is a silly, romantic noddycock. Or if he believes that the land based lifestyle of the British elite is fading, then he might look at all her beautiful roses and think she’s doomed to poverty within a generation. After all, beautiful ladies who spend their days gardening will fade away unless their husbands shift their money to factory investments.

Okay, that’s it for the boring stuff. Now I’ll go to my super secret shortcut (also known as POINT 3). Yes, I really do have a shortcut because my brain can only hold so much. With details of plot and character, internal precepts and turning points, who’s got the memory to hold it all in? So, I start by writing down those internal precepts. Those are what make the characters for me. The rules by which they live and which one will change by the ending of the book. That’s where character growth comes in, btw. Which precept will change by the end and why? Obviously, in a romance, it’s usually because of love. But whatever the reason, make sure it happens because of what the hero/ine does.

The hero’s change comes because of the heroine and the reverse.

Oops…I got off track. My super secret shortcut is this: after I develop the internal precepts, I settle into an image for my characters. It’s a shortcut so that I don’t have to look back at my character sketch. Look at your list of precepts. What does it suggest to you? If you haven’t a clue, try for a color set or an element. Is she fiery? Then dress her in reds and oranges. She gets hot under the color and when she’s afraid, her blood freezes. I had a hero who was on the verge of a mental collapse. His image was of a seething volcano. He dressed in greens and browns, but he was always hot. His hair had red tones. His touch burned and the intensity in his eyes melted the heroine (who happened to have water imagery).

Then take it one step further. The heroine of Cornered Tigress was a skittish cat. That gave me her colors: black and gray. It also gave me how she moves: on her toes silently, or she pounced or stalked. Cats don’t see as well, they’re very texture and taste oriented. So she became a cook and whenever she entered a room, she tasted the air and noticed the fabrics. When she grew frightened, she hid in tiny closed spaces like a closet, but she would fight like a demon when cornered. The hero made her feel safe. When he caressed her, she wanted to stretch and purr. The hero’s imagery set, btw, was of a thunder storm. He was tailor made to frighten her, so that made it all the better when they soothe each other’s demons.

Starting to the get idea? It’s a lot to absorb in a short article. Usually my blogs are light and funny and deal with a fraction of what this one did. But I believe in your ability! So it’s your turn now. Start to work on your characters internal precepts then give them a matching image. Put it in the comments, and I’ll try to help you tweak them if necessary. And one lucky commenter will win a free copy of either Jade Lee’s Devil’s Bargain (Regency era historical) or my just released Blaze by Kathy Lyons (that’s my Harlequin alter ego) titled Under His Spell. You can go to my website or to check out the books and excerpts.

* * *

Thanks, Jade/Kathy!

Join us again next Monday when Borders Book Buyer Sue Grimshaw explains how all those lovely books get on the shelves.

Jade and Kathy’s Bio:

A USA Today bestseller, JADELEE has made her mark with sizzling romances whose unique settings, intriguing backdrops and exotic characters lure you in.” (Romantic Times Book Club reviews).  Her China-set historical romances are a first in genre history.  Her six-book Tigress series stirred reader passions for foreign settings, and her fantasy romances continue to be ground-breaking.  No one does dragons like she does in Dragonborn and Dragonbound! But she hasn’t forgotten her Regency roots.  Look for a new sexy historical in Wicked Surrender on sale  September 2010.

And don’t forget KATHY LYONS!  She’s Jade’s lighter, funnier, and sexier half.  Kathy writes for Harlequin Blaze, giving us a mesmerizing tale in Under His Spell and then workplace hilarity in Taking Care of Business.

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49 Responses to “Setting as Character: An Interactive Approach”

  1. Thanks, Jade! What a fabulous new way to look at our characters.

    My hero has one goal – to save lives. He’s immovable, determined and protective. To some, he’s warm and considerate. To others, he seems cold and uncompromising. He carries the great weight of guilt for not saving a loved one many years ago. The image of a glacier comes to mind, but I’m not sure that’s quite right.

    My heroine has been abandoned. She’s resentful, hurt, and wants nothing to do with helping people. She’s done that all of her life – sacrificed much along the way. But deep down, she’s a natural caregiver and loves people. She’s just fighting against her current role. She wants to lively freely. Wants to do things young ladies her age do. No image comes to mind for her. Help!

    Thanks, Tracey

    Posted by TraceyDevlyn | April 9, 2010, 5:55 am
    • Well, what comes to mind first is what you’ve put…sort of. I don’t get glacier from him. That’s too cold. His more like an agate to me or some sort of rock. Rough on the inside but brilliant shiny stuff on the inside. I’d put in him earth tones–browns and the like, hair too–but make his eyes a brilliant color and always have a flash of color on him (whatever color the inside needs to be).

      As for the heroine, I get water imagery for her. But she’s blocked by rocks. I don’t really get glacier as much as muddy. Once he can get her baggage out of the way, her water will flow and that in turn will wash away his gruff exterior to get to his brilliant colors. I’d dress her in cold blues, but smudge her always with dirt or something. He’s the one who always help her clean up. Or prevents accidents. She’d never walk in quite a straight line anywhere, but always has to dodge something. Unless, of course, she’s with him. And I’d throw in the occasional extraneous phrase in her speech too. you knows and uh um She’s highly distractable because she’s clogged.

      Does that help?

      Posted by Jade/Kathy | April 9, 2010, 2:04 pm
      • It’s fascinating to me how you get all of that from the descriptions you’ve been given.

        This is great stuff!

        Posted by AdrienneGiordano | April 9, 2010, 2:20 pm
      • Thanks, Jade! So agate for him and water for her?

        Posted by Tracey Devlyn | April 9, 2010, 7:50 pm
        • Yes, that’s MY take on it. But the imagery doesn’t work if it doesn’t click for you. This is a very personal thing between you and your creation. What works best for you? What is the best short hand for how you see your characters? Just because I pull something out of my…er…top of my head, doesn’t mean that it’s gospel or even helpful to you. Make sure this works in your head.

          Posted by Jade Lee | April 9, 2010, 11:39 pm
  2. Jade/Kathy – Just droppeed by to say hi. Lots of good stuff in this post. And nice to meet Kathy Lyons!

    Posted by Blythe Gifford | April 9, 2010, 7:38 am
  3. Morning all!

    Great post! Wow, so much information! Yes, I will print that one off!

    I’ll throw my hero/heroine set at you as well.

    Hero – Staid, set in his ways, organized. Is gorgeous (of course) and tired of women throwing themselves at him. Lacking a sense of humor (until the heroine gets hold of him!) I’d liken him to a sequoia.

    Heroine – Just the opposite! =) Funny, lively, the life of the party. Has a big family she loves interacting with, leaves clutter wherever she goes. To me, she seems like a cupcake with sprinkles on top.

    How am I doing?

    Great article Kathy – will definitely have to read it again! and again!



    Posted by Carrie | April 9, 2010, 8:07 am
    • You’re doing great! Those are great images. The only thing I’d like you to think about is how the two images interact. They’re both static images — tree and cupcake. Both just sit there being stately or tempting. How will they grow and change? How will they affect each other?

      If you want the hero to be green/life imagery but too static–then think of him more like a tree slowly being suffocated by ivy. Give him the greens and browns but always make them tight to his neck and restrictive. If he’s muscularly built–make him muscle-bound as in he doesn’t have full range of motion because he’s pulled a muscle or not flexible. Then as the book progresses, the heroine helps loosen him up, pull off that restrictive clothing. In fact, I’d start him in browns, then progress up to greens as he starts to loosen up. Same with his gait–halting, jerky, short movements until he gets more flow.

      As for the heroine — fun life of the party–make her an animal–one that bites and chews. Bunny rabbit comes to mind. bright eyes. flirty mobile tail. Loves carrots. She pulls and tugs at things. She is miss curious bunny, always digging into things, pulling them away, nose twitching, infection laughter. Her skin has got to be soft, soft, soft (i might even say bunny fur soft) Oh wait…how about a squirrel? Better yet! Make her a red head. Her voice or laughter has a high note in it, almost like a chitter. The hero finds it delightfully odd.

      That way, he gives her the grounding she needs. A place to live. (I’d put in her in a mobile home or apartment she’s about to lose because it’s going condo). Shade from her troubles. A place to relax and sleep in quiet. And she pulls the restrictive stuff away that is choking him.

      Posted by Jade/Kathy | April 9, 2010, 2:14 pm
      • That’s really awesome! I can totally see squirrel – she’s a red head! I like the restrictive clothing, that’s a brilliant idea.

        Can I toss another hero out there? A daredevil, takes chances, rock climber, lithe and lean. Steady, not overly-emotional, totally confident in himself.

        I was going to go with cheetah, but he’s not so much about speed as being steady and perfect.

        Thanks for the input Kathy, it’s taking my thought processes all over the place!


        Posted by Carrie | April 9, 2010, 3:01 pm
        • Instead of cheeta…go with a type of monkey or flying squirrel. I know, we just did squirrel, but no wait… GOT IT! Eagle. Loves diving. Patriotic. Does that help? If not, I’ll check again tongiht when I get to Chicago…

          Posted by Jade/Kathy | April 9, 2010, 3:12 pm
          • Eagle is excellent…risk taker, loves heights, hooked nose (ok, maybe not that part) lol….
            Thanks Kathy, you’re awesome!


            Posted by Carrie Spencer | April 9, 2010, 4:10 pm
  4. Hi Jade. Great post. Lots to think about! I actually think I’ve been working on matching images for my characters without even knowing it! Sometimes I use symbols. In my last book, my hero came from a wealthy family and his mother was constantly on him about his image. He started wearing a do-rag in his early twenties and it became a symbol of his rebellious streak because his mother hated it.

    In my current book, I have a secondary character who I liken to a gorilla. LOL. He’s big and strong and loud, but he’s a protector.

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | April 9, 2010, 8:54 am
  5. Great post! Thanks for the helpful info. (My printer is printing as I type!)

    Posted by Wendy Marcus | April 9, 2010, 11:02 am
  6. Jade/Kathy –

    Thanks so much for being at RU today. You gave me lots of good info to wrap my brain around. I’ve never really considered using a sort of “precept placeholder” for my characters before, but I can absolutely see how it would be useful.

    The hero in my WIP is a Texas rancher :). He’s hardworking and loyal to the point that he doesn’t even recognize how much he’s limiting his life. The first image that came to mind was a rock, but that certainly didn’t sound very sexy – LOL. My next thought was that my hero is sort of embodied in his dog – a yellow Labrador retreiver. Loyal, self-sacrificing, always comes running when called upon. Don’t know if that image is an sexier, but I am a dog lover.

    My heroine is more of a bird, flitting from place to place, never landing for long. But she brings pleasure, and a little awe at her quirky nature wherever she goes. Thanks again for the great lecture!


    Posted by KelseyBrowning | April 9, 2010, 11:12 am
  7. You’re doing great kelsey! Rocks can be very sexy too! Just look at my response to Tracy above! But I was already thinking dog by the way you described him. So…you’ve already got it going! Dog and bird is excellent! both are moving and changing. And I can see the love scene words now. His voice is goign to get lower, deeper as they get into it. (There has to be a doggy position in there somewhere!) He uses his tongue well in long hot strokes. She feels surrounded by his warmth and his power. (Cause let’s face it…dogs are way bigger than birds). As for her, she’d be someone who does little nips or pecks with her mouth. She’d spread her hair like wings (or arms). When she climaxes, she would soar and then come back to rest on his solid warmth.

    Those images work great!

    Posted by Jade/Kathy | April 9, 2010, 2:19 pm
    • Jade –

      I had to laugh when I read your love scene comments. Tracey & Adrienne can both attest to the fact that I like to put my characters in interesting…ahem…physical circumstances. 🙂 Great news on these two charcters: they’re first love scene occurs in a treehouse. Never even thought of that with the bird issue, but now I can really begin to see the symbolism in it.

      This is good stuff, and definitely a new twist on visualizing so much about character traits and behavior!


      Posted by Kelsey Browning | April 9, 2010, 3:09 pm
  8. Okay everyone…keep the questions coming! I’m travelling today and tomorrow, so I’ll be sporadic with my responses, but I swear I’ll get to them! I’ll keep this going through till Monday when I’ll post the winner!

    You all are doing GREAT!!!!

    Posted by Jade/Kathy | April 9, 2010, 2:21 pm
  9. Wow! This is great. Ok, so my stab at the fun:

    My heroine is headstrong young woman in contemporary Nevada (the empty desert part) whose mega-rancher father is unreasonably controlling and domineering. She’s escaped, but he’s trying to drag her back. He’s got the money. Maybe she’s a small dog — west Highland terrier? — snapping and biting and running as fast as she can.

    My hero is the successful, determined Californian who came to Ely (a real town which is a working definition of nowhere) for a business deal but gets distracted when his airhead ex-wife kidnaps their daughter and takes her to a commune built round a ghost town in (of all places!) Nevada. He’s determined to find his daughter but helpless in strange territory. Heroine, reluctantly sorry for him, agrees to use local knowledge to help, but firmly believes he’s her father all over again so is determined to keep her distance. Could hero be a big strong black horse?

    I can see the small white dog yapping at the horse, but how do they get together?

    Posted by Beppie Harrison | April 9, 2010, 3:37 pm
    • Beppie– I’ve read your piece multiple times now, and I’m not getting any imagery associated with it. I don’t know why. I think it’s because you’re too much in your head with these people or you’ve edited down the post to just the plot facts. So let me ask you a few questions and let you see if they spark something within you.

      Think of your heroine — is she powerful take charge like a race horse? Fiesty, never say die even though it’s stupid like a small terrier? Cold and stand off ish like a frozen fountain? seething beneath in anger like a volcano? Get some general words associated with her — three or four key characteristics. You gave me her main baggage issue, but I don’t have a feel if she’s a do-er or a be-er (action first or feel/fit into a situation first before you act) If she’s afraid or angry or determined first. That will lead to more imagery that will lock it down in your head.

      same thing goes for your hero. He’s there on business, but he’s protective of his child. And he’s got external traits like her father, but inside he’s not. That’s a little more to go with. You want a hard walled exterior with a softer inside. Still not getting anything. Except…with child abducted…hmmm…I might go with a CRACKED or broken something. It’s because of these extreme circumstances that she’s able to see inside. And frankly, ti’s time for the exterior to break away. But work on more details of who he is inside. Powerful bear or a man? Crisp, effecient head of lettuce. (I have know idea why I’m going with a head of lettuce. It just insisted on being there…like cool as a cucumber. I’m getting vegetable/refridgerator imagery. go figure.)

      Anyway, you get the idea. Work deeper on your people. nd post again.

      Posted by Jade/Kathy | April 10, 2010, 9:58 am
      • Thanks for the response!

        Ok. Heroine is more like her father than she realizes — take charge and bull ahead no matter what. Definitely a do-er. Her father’s paranoia ( e.g. tracking her friends when she was at university in Reno) resulted in her being a loner except for casual friends and allies. She doesn’t trust anybody. I thought of a West Highland terrier because they’re snappy. Maybe a terrier that’s been mistreated?

        I like the broken thought — but maybe something more like a coconut, tough on the outside, more yielding inside. So far (until he meets the heroine and get a ringside seat on what she’s up against) only his daughter has ever penetrated to his tender interior. Maybe a melon?

        Only (of course) heroine doesn’t trust that his interior really is tender. Her father’s wasn’t.

        Does that help?


        Posted by Beppie Harrison | April 10, 2010, 1:44 pm
        • That helps a lot! Does it work for you? The terrier with the broken coconut works great. Because, frankly, the terrier isn’t going to stop until she inside that freaking coconut to the soft yummy center. See…maybe that’s where I have a problem with this. The terrier image goes with someone who is determined to get what she wants despite all odds. Hangs on despite everything. But that’s not the stand-off woman you’ve described. In fact…that IS the problem. You’ve described two people with too many walls. You’ve thrown them together to get a job done–a VERY IMPORTANT job–and I don’t see her breaking through her reserve to do more than just her job. as well as she can, but she’s not going to climb inside his head and get him to step forward and love her. Ditto for him. He’s broken. He’s going to be frantically shoring up his breeches, and not looking to soothe an abused terrier.

          So…here’s my question…how can you get one of these two to keep pushing until the other lets down his/her barriers? At the moment, i don’t see it. One of them–most likely her–has to be insistent on getting into his brain and his heart. Which means she can’t be as abused as you’ve painted her. And she can’t think he’s just another reflection of her father.

          Make sense? And btw…this is just my opinion based on a very tiny bit of information. Feel free to ignore me.

          Posted by Jade/Kathy | April 10, 2010, 9:49 pm
      • Been thinking and realized I didn’t give you adjectives.

        She: Careful, calculated, lonely, self-protective

        He: Reasonable, bitter (about his ex-wife), tender (toward his daughter), good sense of humor, confident.

        This is a GREAT exercise. Thank you!


        Posted by Beppie Harrison | April 10, 2010, 1:53 pm
        • See…again. Careful, calculated, lonely and self protective does not scream terrier to me. More like a turtle. Or a curled hedgehog. I coulnd’t even make cat work in my brain. And if he’s a broken coconut, his prime task is to get his daughter back and shore up those breeches. Those two people aren’t going to get together. They’re going to do their respective tasks and move on.

          Posted by Jade/Kathy | April 10, 2010, 9:52 pm
  10. Jade, what a great post! I’m going to incorporate this type of imagery into my writing from now on.

    Here is my heroine for a fantasy (nonromance) novel I’m brainstorming. She’s the daughter of a king of a Bronze Age desert kingdom. She’s bold but rash, so although she is an excellent swordswoman, she’s still in the ranks of the army instead of a leader. Her goal is to succeed her father as ruler of the kingdom.

    Her contendant for the throne is her beloved brother, with whom she has a falling out at the beginning of the book. They’re twins, but opposite in temperament. He’s calm and self-possessed, but also somewhat of a prig.

    An antagonist to both is the leader of a hunter-gatherer band who accidentally usurps the kingship and is in way over his head trying to rule a kingdom when he’s never even lived in civilization before.

    My first thoughts of images for them are:

    Heroine: burning tumbleweed—brilliant, burning, dangerous, unpredictable, out of control

    Twin brother: a rock or an oak tree—steady, sturdy, but not flexible

    Usurper: possibly a drowning person (because he figuratively is at first) or a bougainvillea or other fast-growing, hard-to-get-rid-of vine (because to be a good antagonist, he must grow quickly into his new role and be hard to uproot)

    Any suggestions?

    Posted by Shauna Roberts | April 9, 2010, 3:52 pm
  11. sorry. Tried to look at the two most recent posts, but am too bleary eyed. Will get to it tomrrow. Never fear!

    Posted by Jade Lee | April 9, 2010, 11:40 pm
  12. THOSE ARE AWESOME! You understand this completely. Love the burning tumbleweed. As she grows, she can cool off, take root, grow and change. But she needs a rock or something solid to stop her initially.

    BTW, I prefer tree to rock for the brother. In fantasy especially, you need to see the growth of the character. So pick if you want brother to break then reshape…but a rock still feels to static. Whereas a tree can break but grow and still live and change.

    Bougainvillea is a great image for the antagonist…quickly growing, hard to uproot. And the plant can get overwater, overwhelmed at first. No problem. So there’s no need to say one or the other of the images. Mix them, join them. Whatever works as a short hand in your head. BTW, the antagoist would slide, creep, move so subtly that you don’t even realize he’s moved until he’s right there. No stomping, strutting whatever. He’d be more understated in his movements and therefore even more deadly.

    Posted by Jade/Kathy | April 10, 2010, 10:04 am
  13. So glad you’re here today too, Jade/Kathy. I read the post yesterday (before everyone commented–yes, I was up late), so I thought about it all day. Love the concept of Internal Precepts and External Images.

    Here’s what I’m working on:

    Hero was a double agent for years, projecting a very carefully crafted exterior. Deep down, he wants to shed his dark past and build a life with the woman he loves. Not only does he feel he’s not worthy of happiness, but he had to leave her because he’s marked for assassination and no one around him is safe.

    Imagery: something hard on the outside with a soft, creamy center, or something ugly on the outside which hides something beautiful, or something deadly but beautiful. Maybe an agate, a diamond in the rough, an oyster (he does live on a cliff overlooking the ocean), a gilded knife? When he’s out, he wears a knit cap, covering his blond hair that peeks out and curls up on the ends. When he’s with the heroine, he’ll pull it off and run his fingers through his hair.

    Heroine–Because of her abilities, she’s a highly-respected member of the good guys and projects an outwardly confident manner. People have long admired her for her beauty, and this is the first time she’s admired for her brain. She fears her abilities are waning, so she’s desperate to keep it secret. When the hero leaves her, just like other men have, she figures it’s because she’s unlucky in love and a poor judge of men who only want one thing from her.

    Imagery: Something beautiful but functional. It’s not a shifter story, but her movements are feline and graceful. A leopard, maybe? These animals are excellent trackers and hunt at night which is what she does. Or maybe a lioness. Don’t they do all the work hunting and raising the cubs, while the males sit around, eating, wanting sex, and getting all the glory?

    I have a scene where the hero makes her wear a ratty fur vest from a secondhand store as a disguise. She’s disgusted. He’s amused and still finds her sexy. As payback, she makes him wear a dorky afro wig. Didn’t realize I had this animal imagery for her and the covering his hair imagery for him until you got me thinking about it. Plus, that afro wig connotes a lion’s mane.

    Am I on the right track?

    Posted by Laurie London | April 10, 2010, 2:43 pm
    • Ugh, so sorry the above post is so long. I choked when I hit enter and saw how much space I took up. It didn’t seem that long when I was typing. 🙁

      Posted by Laurie London | April 10, 2010, 2:49 pm
    • You are SO on the right track it’s amazing. I’m not sure I can add anything to that. I think the lioness works great, and obviously it does for you too. So definitely go with that. The hero seems less defined for me–imagery wise. I keep getting a deck of cards, and the shadowy figure holding them. I don’t know why and frankly, this is your story so if an agate or a coconut works for you…use it! But I see this as a man who wants to shed playing a game. He shows everyone the back of his cards. (that’s this public face). The front side of the cards is what he’s really doing (being a double agent) but what he really, really wants is to leave the game forever. So to get up from the table, come into the light and not play at all. That’s 3 levels of secrets, and a completely different lecture, but it gets you the idea. I keep thinking you need a more complicated image for a complicated hero.

      Good luck!

      Posted by Jade/Kathy | April 11, 2010, 10:36 am
      • Love the playing card imagery! It’s perfect! I think you nailed it.

        He’s accustomed to showing only what he chooses to show. It’s a choice, rather than something he can’t change, unlike oysters or agates which are that way because that’s what they are.

        In fact, in the beginning, his old boss is trying to get him to come work for them as just a regular agent, not a double agent. The hero tells him he’s tired of the whole thing and just wants to be left alone. He’s basically thrown in the cards and doesn’t want to play the game any longer. Until something happens…

        Thank you so much, Jade/Kathy! As a visual learner, this imagery really helps. ((hugs))

        Posted by Laurie London | April 11, 2010, 12:51 pm
  14. Wow! I never thought of this before. I’ll give it a try~

    hero~became the duke at 17, he’s very protective of his loved ones (mom & sister) mom is recently remarried and sister is getting married at t he end of the season. He decides he needs a wife to keep his life running smoothly. He’s adamant that he doesn’t want to find love-he was once in love and she left him for someone who (at the time had a higher rank and more money.) He lets very few people close.

    heroine~4 years earlier her fiance died in a very public scandalous way. After his funeral she retreated to a home bequeathed to her. She has spent the intervening years pursuing her passion of art-she modeled for an artist in return for lessons. she tends to be slightly disheveled-a curl or two falling down, not overly concerned with fashion. She is popular, people like her but she also allows very few people to get close to her .

    Thank you for your help.


    Posted by Di R | April 10, 2010, 8:19 pm
    • Di R — I’m afraid I’m not getting a whole lot here. We’ve all seen this regency hero a zillion times. There’s nothing in your description that makes him unique. Maybe you need to go the other way around. is there an image that resonates for you? Hero as cold diamond — brilliant, multi-faceted, but ultimately empty inside. Or Hero as a crumpled and worn out thousand dollar bill. Heroine straightens him out, shows him that he’s more than just old, tired, face of money. He’s everything that he can DO with that value. I’ve given a bunch of examples of h/h as animals, but you can also just go with frozen river or crystal snowflake. I once had a hero who was a mole–soft browns, liked to hide under layers of subterfuge, and was extremely near sighted. I think that was Tempted Tigress, arguably the best of the series.

      As for your heroine, she’s a little more fleshed out. She likes art, is often disheveled, beautiful enough to model. Maybe she sees herself as a paintbrush–simple, utilitarian, often dirty from the work. But he sees her as the what the brush creates–a work of stunning beauty and artistic creation. I’d start her as static (in a cup). She’s just relatively static. But he gets her moving, brings her to life, and then she ends up creating something stunning out of him getting her to move.

      So that means…he’d be an energizing force. Wind. workhorse. Something that pushes, pulls, works, or creates energy somehow. He provides the impetus for her to get moving. Wherever they go. And then she’s the one who makes a bland picnic into something special. A trip to Gunters into an extraordinary event. And then eventually, she motivates him to do something extraordinary–like starting an orphanage or building a school or something–which brings the imagery full circle.

      Does that make sense?

      Posted by Jade/Kathy | April 11, 2010, 10:50 am
      • Jade/Kathy~

        I see what you mean~I gave surface details for him and indepth for her. I love what you’ve gotten so far.

        Let me try him again. Drake never thought he’d be the duke-he’s the son of the “spare”. He grew up at the dukal home, because the family was close, although he, parents, & sister had a wing to themselves. His Uncle and Father died in a boating accident when he was 17, making him the new duke. His closest friends are the neighbor boys who are his age, and Sarah who was his sister’s age.

        He is partnered with his friends in a racing stable. He decides he should marry since his mother fell in love and recently remarried, and his sister’s wedding is at the end of the season. He needs someone to do all the thngs his mom and sister did. Besides, he overheard a rather forward girl attempt to bribe his valet to allow her into his room at a recent houseparty.

        Does this help?


        Posted by Di R | April 11, 2010, 3:46 pm
        • Well…what you gave me here was backstory and plot. That’s not what makes him unique. And that certainly isn’t what DRIVES him. What are his internal precepts? What gets him out of bed in the morning? What does he believe he has to do in this lifetime before he dies? That will tell me what kind of man he is. And then we can begin fleshing him out with an image.

          If you need a different way to look at it–think this…Name one core belief that he lives beyond all others. Like EGO=GOD. (That’s my will, my way). LOGIC always supersedes EMOTION. in fact Emotions are bad things that must be stomped out. Children must be protected at all costs. The Duke’s primary responsibility is to his tenants. Even over family, King, and children. Money gives safety. Without money…no safety and we will all perish.

          See how these simple precepts flesh out a plot already? If ego=god, then clearly he needs to be really really wrong about something. And climb back out humble. If children need to be protected at all costs, then he’ll have to choose a some point between heroine and kid. If his primary responsibility is to his people, then he’ll have to choose them over the heroine. If his main drive is fear of being broke–losing title and money–then he’ll have to lose it all at some point, or chose the heroine over title and money at some point.

          Once you get an internal precept going…it’s way easier to flesh out who he is.

          Does that help?

          Posted by Jade/Kathy | April 11, 2010, 4:51 pm
          • It does help.
            For Drake logic supercedes emotion. He is very controlled, maybe meticulous is a better word. He feels like everything in life has it’s place, and as long as it’s in it’s place things run smoothly~Don’t rock the boat.

            He feels and feels deeply, but doesn’t allow himself to show it. He becomes almost obsessed with finding the artist who’s painting touches him. It will turn his world upside down when he discovers it’s Sarah-who is everything he DIDN’T want in a wife.

            I love this! It’s already helping


            Posted by Di R | April 12, 2010, 6:35 am
          • Ah…well then think about a roll top desk. or some sort of closet organizer. Everything has a place and everything in its place and the deepest parts are hidden away. Deeply away. And then along comes this painting or a bird or whatever image you decide on for her. he puts her someplace, but she doesn’t fit there. He decides…she’s this. And then suddenly, he finds her there. No, no, no! You go here. Except she doesn’t fit there. And she walks over here and looks into THAT! OH NO! Except it’s okay. And in fact, he finds that the box expands. Wow. That’s a good thing. Except, hell, she’s over HERE now!!!!

            Now this story I can SO see! Does that work for you?

            Posted by Jade/Kathy | April 12, 2010, 8:16 am
          • Wow!

            I am blown away! It’s perfect. 😀

            Thank you!


            Posted by Di R | April 12, 2010, 9:10 am
  15. Hi Jade,

    what a wonderful post, it makes me think of reading Tarot Cards underwater, or climbing beyond a distance you think your characters can reach- before you get to know them, deeply enough, so that the terrain they climb is kindred to who they are. I wish I’d landed here friday; so I could have posted my present description of how my characters and the worlds they find themselves drawn into- mirror each other.
    I will segue to your site.

    Thank you,


    Posted by Drea | April 10, 2010, 11:11 pm
  16. There’s still time Drea. I’m too brain dead to do Laurie and Di R tonight. I’ll be doing that tomorrow. So you can chime in! And i’ll be checking this next week too in case anyone reads the archive. So no problem! Bring it!

    Posted by Jade/Kathy | April 10, 2010, 11:51 pm
    • Hi Jade,

      Great, thank you.

      I’m writing a murder mystery that includes a romance.

      She is a dancer and does not trust words. She’s not comfortable with being still. A dramatic gifted performer, she is getting ready for what might be her last performance because of her age. What will she do next?
      Solve the murder mystery of her ex, a famous poet?

      Images for her –

      She is graceful and dramatic – what images might suggest those qualities?
      ˝Gang members who also do modern dance?
      Don’t think so. (wry grin)

      Perhaps she is a raven, graceful, dangerous, what else? She is happiest in storms? I like the ambience but I’m not yet sure how this might help as I conjure/write the novel.

      He has been attracted to her for the last five years and never misses a dance performance. He loves words. He does not understand her but
      imagines that he wishes to understand her. A storm is coming and a hummingbird and a raven just flew by. Interesting combination.

      He needs to solve the mystery of the poet’s death because the poet died on his very long stair case.

      images for him –

      perhaps he is most comfortable on a staircase because each stair is a word that can be read one way ascending the staircase, and a different way when one is descending. Fun but probably not particularly helpful?

      thanks so much for your very welcome thoughts.
      Your ideas are going to be very helpful, I’m having fun learning, but wonder how to create evocative specific words for each character.

      laurel aka Drea

      Tarot Readings for Writers

      Posted by Drea | April 11, 2010, 4:44 pm
  17. Drea/Laurel — Those are interesting concepts. Let’s start with the dancer. The moment you say she’s doing her last performance because of age, I get an old butterfly. They live a short time, they’re beautiful and they flitter. She’s got to be thinking these things too. I don’t know how old you are, but I gave up a pro racquetball career because of age-related injuries. It’s hard. What does an athlete do once they’re done? And artists don’t just die because their bodies have given up. What will she do to express her creativity? Her art? Become a teacher? That’s so…not what she was. So tie her thoughts to dying butterfly (or something like that). But the hero sees her as something else. As still a butterfly, but now going into a new iteration. And what he likes about her is something she doesn’t expect–like her strength. That’s not something associated with a butterfly. So when he looks at her, he’s got to see a different image. Some animal (race horse?) or something that gets even more amazing as it grows older. grapes/wine?

    Love the staircase imagery for him. But I don’t quite get the words. Honestly, I was thinking more photographer for him. It’s not words being read one way or another, but the view. That unique way of seeing things works in relation to her too. After all, she sees herself as ending whereas he just sees a landing with another new whole vista before her. We get an extra dichotomy because she’s all about movement (dancer) but he’s all about capturing one moment in time (photographer). I’d make all his imagery about a camera–mechanical, cold, precise, but with a unique vision.

    And you can absolutely tie in the storm, lightning, etc. That’s the background, the murder, etc. But he sees lights and shadows and roiling clouds. She sees death and ending. And together, they make it through to a new dawn.

    That’s what I got from your description. But really, you don’t need to listen to just me. If that doesn’t click for you…go where it works! Or comment again, and I’ll try again!

    Posted by Jade/Kathy | April 11, 2010, 8:12 pm
    • HI Jade,

      Thank you for your evocative helpful response to my exploration.

      My character does not want to teach dance or anything. I’ve never thought of the image of an aging butterfly? do we see aging butterflies? pale and gossamer, flying closer to the earth before they perish? or do they hide as they age? I will do research but I like to quest ion before research.

      I see her more like a dangerous, but, of late, less aggressive bird of night. Are there butterflies of the night? I am stirred and moved by your welcome evocative images and will continue to muse on them.. My character whose name is Jade, an evocative magickal name., I’m wearing a jade ring from a bergmanesque swedish ex, as I type.

      I appreciate your imagination leading to what grows more delectable with age.
      Certainly wine; and that he sees her as wine is lovely and will be fun to play with, verra sensual, wondrous rooms to explore- celebrations/intoxications/liberations.

      Wow, thank you for your generous fecund sharing.
      I welcome any other thoughts/ideas/epiphanies you may have. I look forward to diving into one of your books asap. Any thoughts as to which one I shall gift myself to begin with.

      many blessings,

      Posted by Drea | April 11, 2010, 9:30 pm
  18. AND THE WINNER IS>>>>>

    Adrienne Giordano!

    FYI, I used to randomly generate the winner. So…Adrienne! Email me at and let me know your address and if you’d like a copy of Under His Spell by Kathy Lyons or Devil’s Bargain by Jade Lee!

    I’ll keep checking in here if other people want to comment. I’ll help however I can!

    Posted by Jade/Kathy | April 11, 2010, 8:15 pm
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