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Mentally running away with Paul; or Creating Characters your readers love as much as you do by Beth Daniels

I’ve already decided. When my memory is shot or at least leaking badly and I’m at the Home for Over-Wired Novelists, I’m going to tell everyone about the love of my life. Right now, I think his name is Paul Montgomery, but that may change. It’s easy to spend time with him. All I have to do is take down the book I wrote about him and sink back into it.

There have been many men who passed through my life but only the guys I invented for a storyline are the ones I’d like to keep – I think – in real life.

It’s not just the heroes who pluck my heart strings. Sometimes the heroine is the one who makes me cry over a passage I’ve already read what seems like a gazillion times. And the secondary characters frequently still make me chuckle.

I really like my people. While they can occasionally take the bit between their teeth and run the story in a direction I never planned (Paul did that a lot!), I still have far more control over the things they do than anyone can have over their human offspring. Fortunately, characters don’t have free will.

Still they ARE my offspring, you see, and they are very human in the way they act and react to things.

Yep, definitely will have them calling on me at the Home in the future.

It’s easy for you to consider the characters you created as real though. The trick is to create characters that seem like real people to your readers.

A few months back I wrote a similar blog about characters but it was with the fantasy world of fiction in mind. This time out we’re talking folks in your story who could live next door, pass you on the street, be your friends or family members – or at least very like them. In other words, they act like real people and haven’t any super powers or magic to complicate things.

I think I’ve managed to people my contemporary and historical novels with characters who are believably real. I’ve had readers write asking for some of them to turn up in another book. So, I made it so.

Kevin Lonergan played match maker for his identical twin brother in my first Special Edition title and that’s all I’d planned for him to do. Until the letters came and the editor called and said, “we think Kevin should have a book of his own.” On one hand, he was easy to work with – we’d done this dance before when he was a secondary character. I already knew things about him. But I needed to know more if he was going to be the hero now. He needed to be fleshed out, had to give me extra things to work with.

I thought Deegan Galloway was merely a secondary character but he knew he wanted the lead role nearly from the moment he stepped on the page in RECKLESS. I had to yank him aside and bargain with him. On my end, I promised he could be the hero in his very own spin-off title. On Dig’s end, he leaned back in his virtual chair – considering he is a virtual person, after all – and just grinned. Again, for him to have a leading role, I needed to know far more about him and Dig had a mysterious past to begin with! After RECKLESS was released readers began asking if Deegan would have a book of his own. He was really a bit impossible to live with after that, so I complicated his life in new ways. It might have started out as a bit of revenge on my part but it really made him work for that top billing he wanted.

It isn’t merely heroes that grab readers for some identify with the heroines because they’ve been through similar circumstances to the one playing out in the book. More than one reader wrote saying, “It was like you knew my life story and were telling it. I not only found it hard to trust a man after being hurt, my son’s name is Chris, too! And when I did meet the right man finally, he adopted my boy as his – just like happened in the story!”

I’d thought I’d dreamed the whole thing up – not just the plot but the characters that these readers were comparing themselves to. It dumbfounded me.

What all this taught me was that in creating characters, a writer has a very serious chore. They need to build, animate, and cause pain as well as joy to the people on the page to make them believable – REAL.

They’re already real to you, their creator. The magic is making readers think of them as believably real.

Believably real is harder to do. You might need to create a check list of things that must always be part of your characters and the Chinese menu of things that need to change the next time you sit down to write.

This begins with hair and eye coloring, name, place where they were born or grew up or live in within the confines of the story. But it will move to what makes them tick, what their goals are, what they fear, what they are capable of, and how they will interact with the characters on the stage around them.

Your own background or that of friends or coworkers or even snippets of conversation overheard can go into character creation.

Personally, I like to ask the character to talk to me and just let my fingers tell a tale that sets things running. Why is this heroine so set against love, so determined to be a success? There has to be a reason that her feet landed on this particular path. Why did another character decide to embezzle funds from the workplace or arrange events to blacken another character’s name? Or kill one of the players?

What do the secondary characters provide to aid or thwart the stars of this tale?

It’s a balancing act, but the end result is a story where the players grab the readers’ interest and keep them turning pages.

We’re going to take on this challenge in IT’S ALL ABOUT CHARACTER, the workshop running June 12th through July 9th here at Savvy Authors. We’ll consider backstory, goals, fears, accomplishments, failures, speech patterns if necessary! The end result could well be a character template to use and play with for many more stories in the future.

I hope you’ll join me! Right now, there’s a guy named Lang who is waiting for me to rejoin his story. It’s getting to the end and he knows he’s not going to like what I plan to do to him next.

[box] Bio:

Plot or Dodge Writers BlockBeth Daniels has spent the entire 27 years of her life as a published novelist using a heck of a lot of pseudonyms. No matter who she reinvents herself as, her characters have a lot in common with those in stories that preceded theirs and ones that follow, but they aren’t total clones. She finds writing the villains to life is an excellent way to give into her dark side, which she isn’t sure whether she has actually. Her parents didn’t think she did but if you talk to her three younger brothers and two ex-husbands, they may tell a different tale.

Visit her at or Join her on Twitter @BethDaniels1, @Beth__Henderson, @JBDaneWriter or on Facebook at BethHendersonAuthor.




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