Help me welcome one of my favorite people (even if she doesn’t realize I stalk her on Facebook) Cherry Adair! Today, she’ll chat with us about making our characters three dimensional.
Writing interesting characters – making them three dimensional- is the very heartbeat of a good story. Even if one’s plot is ho hum, if your reader connects with your characters you’ll keep them turning pages (and lining up to buy your next book and the next).
My first step in building an interesting character is their name. It shouldn’t be something unpronounceable with lots of letters and no vowels, or something so unusual that every time it’s on the page it slows down the reader as their brain stumbles over the unfamiliar. We don’t want readers spending the entire book trying to figure out how to pronounce a name.
I always give my main character’s a first, middle and last name. (What does their mother yell when she’s mad at them? lol) Even if you never use that middle name, you should know it. As soon as I name a character, I want to know what other people in the book are going to call them. Is it a nickname? A pet name? Is one character the only person that calls her by this particular name when everyone calls her something else? Do they like the name, hate the name, call themselves by another name?
Next find an image. I tend not to use celebrities because they already have characteristics I know. I look for a fresh face, a blank canvas, so my characters are mine, all mine.
Next I give them a birthday. I don’t allow myself to think about it, or read astrological signs – Do this fast. I just tell myself this characters birthday is March 21st 1992. Done. I do this for each major character, and that includes villains (it doesn’t have to be a mustache twirling bad guy – it could be the hero’s mother-in-law.) All the main characters have a birthday. Day, month and year. The most important thing with birthdays is you can not change it once you chose it! No matter what.
Once you have a birthday, research that astrological sign and you’ll see who your person is. Pick three to five character traits, and use at least one in every scene that character is in. No matter whose POV you’re in. If the person is on the page, make sure they have characteristics individual to them. If this is who you want, you’re golden. You have all their characteristics under their sun sign, and you’re ready to write. What if the astrological sign isn’t who you want your character to be? Snoopy dance! But I love it when I inadvertently end up with a person I didn’t want, and have no desire to write. This is striking gold! (remember, no changing birthdays). If you have a meek and mild astrological sign, when the character you want is a kick butt fire sign, then you need to go into their backstory and see what changed them from meek, to fire. Give them life experiences, learning curves, lessons in their past, things that have changed them (for better or worse). Make them who you want them to be, but be sure to motivate those changes.
What’s fabulous about this is that you make sure that the ‘original them’ peeks through now and then. You can decide if, when the chips are down, they use everything they’ve learned over the years, or if they revert back to who they used to be.
Once I have their name, date of birth, and characteristics, I write their backstory. I want to know about their family (even if that family never appears on the page) How they were raised, how they grew up, who their patents are/were, how their parents treated them, their birth order, their level of education- all these things go into who they are the moment they first appear on the page. Be sure to add milestones in their life, the good and the bad. Know what they love. What they hate. What is their Kryptonite? What do they consider their strengths? What do they consider their weaknesses? What makes them happy. How do they feel about money (or lack thereof). Another thing I always know about a character before I start writing is how they behave if they’re scared. What is their tendency? To run away? To ask for help? To tackle even the scariest situation by themselves?
Knowing all of the above about your characters before you write Chapter One gives you a solid base to build your 3-D characters on so that once you start writing, you don’t have to come up with his brother’s name on the fly, or decided half way through the book it would be cool if he’s an orphan.
If he’s a three dimensional person in your head, he’ll saunter onto the page, thumbs in his back pockets, scar on his hard head from falling off the jungle gym when he was seven, barely healed heart after Roxanne jilted him at the alter when he was twenty-six, squinting because he refuses to wear his glasses. He’ll look out of that page with so much personality readers will hold their breath as they turn the page to see what he’ll do next.
Excerpt: T-FLAC operative Rafael Navarro will never allow another woman to suffer the consequences of his dangerous life. But in a world where a terrorist can do more damage with a keyboard than a bomb, he needs the expert help of a cyber-geek. And fast.
Fellow operative, and cybercrimes specialist Honey Winston prefers computers to people. But when a serial bomber threatens the world’s financial infrastructure, she’s forced to work closely with Navarro, whose notorious skill in the bedroom is as legendary as his dexterity defusing bombs.
Honey and Rafael must fight sparks hot enough to melt their resolve, and push beyond fear itself, as they join forces in a bid to race the clock before a sinister and lethal bomber proves just how much they both have to lose.
T-FLAC is back, and the timer is counting down in the most pulse-pounding explosive op yet.
RU writers – do you have a little secret on how to make your character believable?
Join us on Wednesday for Laura O’Connell on how to avoid Beige Writing.
Bio: An adventurer in life as well as writing, New York Times bestselling author Cherry Adair moved halfway across the globe from Cape Town, South Africa, to the United States in her early years to become an interior designer. Now a resident of the Pacific Northwest, she shares the award-winning adventures of her fictional T-FLAC counterterrorism operatives with her readers.
Popular on the workshop circuit, Cherry gives lively classes on writing and the writing life. Pulling no punches when asked how to become a published writer, Cherry insists, “Sit your butt in the chair and write. There’s no magic to it. Writing is hard work. It isn’t for sissies or whiners.”
- Weekly Lecture Schedule for Nov 19-23
- The Unrepentant Character with Mae Clair
- Strong & Sassy Heroines with Annie Seaton
- Creating Your Hero’s Fatal Flaw
- How Fatal Should Flaws Be? Laurie Schnebly Campbell