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The Great Search for Great Characters By Becky Martinez

Writing conferences have always had a great attraction for me.

Without them I probably never would have finished my first book. I also probably wouldn’t have learned how to be a better writer. I wouldn’t have made so many discoveries that always come after returning from attending a convention where all people are talking about is how they write, what they write and what makes them want to keep on writing. Having just returned from one of my favorite writing conferences, Left Coast Crime, which brings together mystery and crime writers and hundreds of fans, I can say that part of the joy of being a writer is getting a chance to meet fans personally and to also converse with other writers. We are not all solitary characters who hide away in our dark little offices pounding on a keyboard or cursing our characters. Getting a chance to meet with other writers and readers in a city as dynamic and spectacular as Vancouver, BC, would be a treat for anyone, but hearing from readers and other writers made the entire trip worthwhile.

Writers are special people and over the years I have often advised writing students to attend conventions to learn what other writers have to say. It is not just to get an idea of the market place or what is selling this year, or who is buying or the latest trends in publishing. I advise people go to conventions to talk to the other writers, to listen to HOW they write or WHY they write. Over the years I have learned that writing is an individual thing, but the process everyone uses to get to their writing done is different from person to person. Now that sounds very simplistic, but it isn’t. Writing fiction is a very personal thing and that’s why being a writer and being around writers can be so fascinating and good for the soul. We all have different ways and use different ideas for coming up with our stories, but some truths are universal:

  1. Listen to the characters – let them speak to you. Every one of them has a special voice and it is the author’s duty to look for it and let it out.
  2. Characters are critical – no matter how great the setting, readers want to connect with a character
  3. If your story is falling flat, look to your characters for ideas to make it come back to life. Again, it is the characters who bring the human element to a story and they can be as unpredictable and funny and petty as you want them to be. Use them to bring life to the story.
  4. Don’t be afraid to let your characters grow. We all grow and change and our characters should too. Give them direction and then see where THEY take you. Sometimes you may have to bring them back to earth, but you might also discover they are taking you and your story to new heights. Give them rein to go higher and see where that takes the story.
  5. Make your characters real. None of us is perfect and our characters should not be either. We all have special gifts, and we need to bring some of them to the characters we create and then we send them off to get into trouble, to solve crimes, to fall in love.

If you have been having problems with creating characters, sometimes it just takes a little bit of extra effort.

That was one thing I heard from more than one writer at the recent convention. So many of them spoke of letting their character “speak” to them.  The key was to listen to the character – not just voice, but in every way.  Others spoke of conversing with their characters – actually posing questions to them and then letting the character answer.

So many also spoke of being on the constant lookout for new characters all around them, watching and listening to people and searching for the next elusive characters for their next book. We can all take a lesson from that. We can always be on the lookout for those characters we might want to put into a book – whether it is the clerk at the store who is so precise or the flighty neighbor who keeps getting locked out of her house. Those special (or different) people or characters are out there and we just need to keep looking for them and then listening to them or giving them a voice so they can come to life for our readers.

In coming weeks I’ll begin a class on creating characters. Just like going to writers’ conventions, working on character creations is always one of the favorite parts of being an author. We get to make up new people and bring them to life any way we want them to be—whether good or bad.

Yes, sometimes creating great villains can be the most fun of all characters to create. That was one of the most interesting sessions in the recent conference. Because this was a writer-reader conference we got the chance to meet and chat with readers of all ages. Being around readers is great because we get to hear what they want to find in a good book or why they choose a certain writer. Sometimes we forget them when we get so caught up in our characters and their dilemmas that we forget we are writing for an audience.

New ideas for characters, new ideas for villains, and lots of new ideas—to me that is the value of any writers’ conference and I came away with plenty of new information and it’s why I always recommend spending time with fellow writers and readers.


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Creating Memorable Characters: Let’s Write a Story (Volume 2)

Creating great heroes, heroines and villains doesn’t need to be a mystery if you take the time to build your characters using this step by step guide. Learn how to make your characters unique individuals who are both human and heroic, or thoughtful but troubled or cunning but courageous. Find out how you can use a simple procedure to come up with a character who will keep readers turning the pages.

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Becky Martinez is a former broadcast journalist who writes romance and romantic suspense for The Wild Rose Press as Rebecca Grace. She also regularly teaches classes for Savvy authors and presents in-person workshops at writing conferences. With fellow author, Sue Viders, she has co-written a series of books for beginning and intermediate authors titled Let’s Write a Story. 7 Ways to Plot, Creating Memorable Characters and The Plotting Wheel are all available at Amazon. Their next book on Creating Great Villains will be available this summer.

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