Wouldn’t it be nice if we woke up one morning knowing everything there is to know about our characters? Actually, it would be more than nice. In my case, it would be a miracle! I’ve often thought getting to know characters is like getting to know a new friend. It takes time and plenty of conversation.
Author Lynne Marshall is here with some tips on how we can deepen our characters.
Take it away, Lynne!
Are you having trouble getting to know your characters? Are they reaching out to you but somehow not making contact? Beginning a book is always a time of discovery, and sometimes our characters resist our delving. So how do we writers break down the barrier?
A couple of summers ago, I had the good fortune of extra time and enrolled in a UCLA extension writing workshop: Deepening the Characters You Create. The instructor used personalized questions to help each participant create realistic characters with distinct histories, points of view, and value systems. The goal of the class was that we would use this gathered information to weave into our current or future story.
I had a vague idea about three siblings, two sisters and a brother, the Grady family. I planned to write a book for each one, and the workshop proved to be the perfect way to get to know them.
Each week we received our particular questions, which were based on the information we gave our instructor via a brief synopsis of our stories. We were instructed to answer the question in first person, as if we were the protagonist. The instructor told us to allow at least thirty minutes for the character to free flow through the answer.
I planned to write the first book about Anne, the eldest sister, as her parents’ sudden trauma and subsequent special needs forces her back home, a place she’d run away from twelve years ago. My goal in the series was for each sibling to deal with their place in the family and their own private brokenness. That meant I needed to explore that brokenness.
Professor Doctor’s questions proved to be the perfect path to reach my elusive heroine, Anne, and in the process, I also grew to know Lucas, the middle sibling, and Lark, the youngest Grady.
A sample of questions that might be helpful with your characters.
- What is your earliest memory of injustice? Go dark.
- Can you let go of grudges and resentments? Find the shame of what the character felt.
- How did your siblings show their love growing up?
- What was the glue that held your family together?
- Did either sibling have something you desperately wanted?
- How do you cope when the pain is overbearing? (tell the story)
- Re: romantic relationships – are you competing instead of nurturing?
- How do you sabotage relationships?
- What wounds have you kept hidden, and what wounds are yet to heal?
- What gifts do you have to offer another?
- What common miracles do you forget to notice?
- What does it mean to be free?
- Where do you find comfort to avoid feeling pain?
- What makes you feel alive?
- What does contentment look like?
- When did your heart move from cold to fire?
- How has compassion and empathy for others affected your life?
- When did a crack of light creep into the darkness?
- What have you chased with urgency, passion and veracity?
- What do you miss that can’t be returned?
- What is worth fighting for?
- What do you want right now that you’re not willing to wait for?
- What questions must you have answers to?
What I Learned
By answering questions like these in first person, I was able to bring my characters from distant billowing silhouettes into full focus. Since my trilogy revolves around three siblings, their shared childhood played a huge part in each of their characters, and by examining their past, the future became clearer. I learned that Anne was the rock of the siblings, solid, practical, dependable, and blunt to a fault. Eventually she’d discover that good things come to those who wait. Always mistaken as a slacker, Lucas was cautious, inward, and loyal, but in his story as he battled post traumatic stress disorder he’d learn that out of friendship blooms the truest love. Ethereal, fragile Lark would prove herself to be capable and strong after her teenage struggle with anorexia, and as she learned and embraced her destiny, contrary to her hopes and dreams, all roads would lead back home. In the end, that is where she and her baby were meant to be.
This one particular insight by the professor blew my mind: “There is always one moment in childhood where the door opens and lets in the future.”
RU Crew, can you define that moment for your characters? Leave a comment for a chance to win either a medical romance backlist book from Lynne or an ebook of One for the Road.
Join us tomorrow when Alicia Rasley shares her top ten pacing tips.
Bio: Lynne Marshall writes contemporary and Medical Romance for Harlequin and The Wild Rose Press. The first book in the Grady family trilogy, Courting His Favorite Nurse, is a March 2012 Harlequin Special Edition. Also coming in March in e-book only is, An Indiscretion, a contemporary romance with strong medical elements, from The Wild Rose Press.
You can connect with Lynne Marshall on the Web:
COURTING HIS FAVORITE NURSE Harlequin Special Edition, March 2012 #2178, US
Anne Grady knew better than anyone that love was complicated. When she’d left her hometown, she thought she was leaving her past heartbreak behind for good, as well. But practically the moment she returned to care for her injured parents, she stumbled headlong into their confidant—her first love, Jack Lightfoot.
Jack had been unable to deny his feelings for Annie when he was a teenager dating her best friend, and he certainly couldn’t muffle the spark twisting between them now—even if memories of the past kept threatening to push them apart. This time Jack wasn’t going to let history repeat itself—he was going to show Annie that the two of them were meant to be much more than best friends!
- The winner is…
- Tying It With a Bow by Lynne Marshall
- Lynne Marshall Presents: Is There a Secret to Creating Likable Characters?
- Weekly Lecture Schedule for Nov. 26-30, 2012
- Weekly Lecture Schedule for February 27 – March 2, 2012