I’m excited to welcome my friend Terri Austin to RU. Terri is the author of the Rose Strickland Mystery series published by Henery Press. Today, she’ll give us tips on creating characters that make a reader sit up and take notice.
Great to have you here, Terri!
My favorite part of writing is creating characters that take on a life of their own. My secondary characters, even tertiary ones, are vital to making a story come alive. But how can you take your characters and give them extra zing?
1. Use Dialogue
Everyone has a unique way of looking at the world and their dialogue reflects that. Even minor characters in your book should have their own speech patterns.
For instance, people who’ve been to therapy tend to use shrink speak. It pours out of them like juice from a lemon. They talk about boundaries and connecting and being present. You can delve into all sorts of reasons your character needs boundaries. Or maybe they just read self-help books by the truck load. Still, it says something about them and makes me want to know more.
If your character is rough around the edges, their grammar may be less than stellar which gives us a clue into their background. And if their grammar is perfect, that tells me that they’re self-conscious about their upbringing. And maybe some of the old words trickle out when they’re very nervous or angry.
Is your character the boss? Is she an authoritative type who craves respect or that supervisor who wants to be everyone’s best friend?
And most importantly, let your dialogue be natural. Write how people really speak—without all the ‘um’ and ‘uh’ words, of course. Listen to the fast food person taking your order. Does he say, “Can I help you?” and run all the words together like he’s said them a billion times for every burger sold? Or does he say, “What do you want?” One is bored, one is slightly hostile.
Does your best friend say, “Hello. How was your day at the nuts and bolts factory where you’ve worked unhappily for the last five years?” No. No, she doesn’t. So neither should your characters.
Dialogue should be natural and reveal things about your character, make them unique, and keep us turning the pages to learn more.
2. Use Fashion
Clothes and accessories are as much a part of someone’s character as the way they speak. Does your character wear baggy clothes or suits that are boxy and non-descript? Why? Obviously these are not the attention seekers of the world—they want to hide and they do it by wearing clothes that let them blend into the background. Does your character wear only designer duds? Because they want to feel good about what they wear? Or is part of their identity wrapped up in labels?
I have a character named Roxy Block who has bright blue hair and dresses like a Lolita. She gets noticed everywhere she goes and that’s the way she likes it. My friend, Larissa Reinhart’s character, Cherry Tucker, takes her inexpensive clothes and embellishes them, sometimes to hilarious lengths. Cherry is an artist and she sees her clothes as another canvas that reflects her personality.
In the Fever series, by Karen Marie Moning, the heroine, Mac, dresses in bright colors. They make her happy and she views herself as a rainbow girl. But once her life turns upside down, she starts wearing black. Her clothes are indicative of what she’s going through and how she’s changed.
Clothes and accessories reveal something significant about your character.
3. Use Quirks
Is your heroine a health nut? Why? Because she wants to feel good or was she chubby as a child and vowed never to let herself go to that place again?
Does your character read the obits every day? I know older people do this, but what if your character is only thirty? I would find that fascinating and want to know the reason behind it. Is it because she owns a vintage clothing business and is looking for merchandise, like Diane Vallere’s character, Madison Night? Or is your character just strangely morbid and if so, why?
Give your characters unusual quirks and ticks, but make them have a purpose. A quirk for the sake of being quirky will only frustrate your readers. Make those quirks count.
These are just a few ways to make your characters pop. Whether your heroine is a likable nurse with bad hair she tries to disguise with floppy hats or an uber villain with an obsession for white furniture, make their dialogue, fashion, and quirks reveal something special and important about them. Give the readers a reason to keep turning until the last page.
What’s your secret to creating unforgettable characters?
Rose Strickland is having a blue Christmas. Her friend is arrested for attempted murder, her sexy bad guy crush is marked by a hit man, and her boss is locked in an epic smackdown with a rival diner. Determined to save those she loves, Rose embarks on an investigation more tangled than a box of last year’s tree lights.
With her eclectic gang at the ready, Rose stumbles across dead bodies, ex-cons, jilted lovers, and a gaggle of strippers as she searches for the truth. What she finds will leave her entrenched in a battle for freedom she might not survive.
“Austin’s debut kicks off her planned series by introducing a quirky, feisty heroine and a great supporting cast of characters and putting them through quite a number of interesting twists.” Kirkus Reviews
RU contributor Ruth Harris joins us on Wednesday, April 3rd.
Bio: Terri L. Austin lives in Missouri with her funny, handsome husband and a high maintenance peekapoo. She’s the author of Diners, Dives and Dead Ends—a Rose Strickland Mystery. She loves to hear from readers and you can finder her on Twitter, FB, Goodreads, TerriLAustin.com, and Henery Press. Terri and some of her writer friends have a Wednesday book chat on Little Read Hens. Stop by and join the conversation. Terri’s books are available at: Amazon Print, Amazon E-book, B&N Print, B&N E-book, and Kobo.
- Editing for Pantsers with Terri L. Austin
- How’s Your Dialogue Working for You? by Tracy March
- Characterization Through Dialogue
- Dissecting Your Characters with Terri Austin
- Dressing–and–Undressing Your Characters…Plus How Did They Do the Laundry on Downton Abbey?