Posted On April 1, 2013 by Print This Post

How to Create Characters That Leap Off the Page with Terri L. Austin

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?

Terri L. AustinAnd 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? 

 

Last Diner StandingLAST DINER STANDING is the second book of Terri’s Rose Strickland Mysteries.

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

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RU contributor Ruth Harris joins us on Wednesday, April 3rd.

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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 PrintB&N E-book, and Kobo.

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15 Responses to “How to Create Characters That Leap Off the Page with Terri L. Austin”

  1. Hi Terri,

    Thanks for sharing these tips with us.

    Congratulations on your new book! I’m excited for you, and hope you sell tons of copies.

    Posted by Jackie Layton | April 1, 2013, 7:57 am
  2. Hi Terri,

    I love using clothes to define my secondary characters. Most dress better than my heroine, but she gets the hero. Great cover!

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | April 1, 2013, 8:58 am
  3. Morning Terri!

    Oh I love quirky characters! =) When combined with the dialogue and the clothing, you can really make your characters come to life!

    When you’re doing a secondary character, say one with a penchant for collecting eagle feathers, do you take the time to explain that about the secondary character? or just let it be part of their charm?

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | April 1, 2013, 9:03 am
  4. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, Jackie and Mary Jo!

    Carrie–if a secondary character collected eagle feathers, I’d probably explain why, in a charming, whimsical way of course. And it doesn’t have to make sense to anyone other than that character. A third-layer character, I’d probably not explain and just leave it as part of their charm. But that’s me. If you want to leave it open, do what feels right for that character. Since I write mysteries, I may leave it a mystery for a few books, then explain it. Lots of fun options. Don’t know if I helped you, though! :)

    Posted by Terri L. Austin | April 1, 2013, 11:30 am
  5. Great post, Terri! Wonderful explanations and you are able to create memorable characters without being overly descriptive. That’s a real art.
    I think language is so important in defining a character. I do have issues with clothes, though. That’s the hardest part of writing for me. I should just write about nudists, but then that would probably create a whole new issue of descriptions I don’t want to deal with.

    Posted by Larissa Reinhart | April 1, 2013, 11:51 am
  6. I am totally anxious to read your cozy set in a nudist colony, Larissa! And I love the way Cherry uses clothes to express herself. She makes me laugh out loud with her tribute ensembles!

    Posted by Terri L. Austin | April 1, 2013, 1:01 pm
  7. Hi Terri!

    What’s your take on using brand names for clothing and shoes? I think most romance readers know Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo, but sometimes I hesitate using too many labels because it starts to sound tedious.

    Thanks for being with us today!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | April 1, 2013, 3:00 pm
  8. I’ve read both of Terri’s books and her characters are, indeed, memorable in the best possible way! You’re so right– dialouge, fashion, and quirks define us all, and they create characters readers want to come back to again and again. Thanks, Terri!

    Posted by Gretchen Archer Smith | April 1, 2013, 3:13 pm
  9. Jennifer–Thanks so much for having me on today! It’s a pleasure to be here. I try to use designer names sparingly. I agree, it can sound tedious. Unless your character is a total label whore, in which case, use away!

    Gretchen Archer Smith–thank you! Your character, Davis Way, is beyond memorable. I want to be her best friend. I might wind up in jail, but it would so be worth it!

    Posted by Terri L. Austin | April 1, 2013, 3:20 pm
  10. Hi, Terri. These are great tips!

    As a reader, I love great dialogue. I think it tells us so much about a character.

    Thanks for the great post.

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | April 1, 2013, 4:03 pm
  11. Thanks for an intriguing post, Terri! I’ve bookmarked it for future reference.

    P.S. I ordered your book for my Nook!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | April 1, 2013, 5:01 pm
  12. Adrienne–Thanks so much for taking the time to comment!

    Becke–Thank you! Hope you enjoy it! And hope the tips are helpful! :)

    Posted by Terri L. Austin | April 1, 2013, 6:59 pm
  13. Thanks again for having me on today, RU! I had so much fun chatting with your readers. Much appreciation!

    Posted by Terri L. Austin | April 1, 2013, 10:29 pm
  14. Terri,

    I hope you’ll consider blogging with us again. I’m looking forward to reading book 3!

    Thanks everyone for stopping in!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | April 1, 2013, 10:59 pm

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