It takes a skilled author to balance all the needs of creating a great book. You’ve got to combine story, plot, conflicts, characters, romance, craft, style, voice and more to get readers engrossed in your tale. And each person approaches it differently. So here’s Stefanie London to tell us how she focuses on characters!
When I decided to write my first book (which became my debut novel, Only The Brave Try Ballet) I didn’t think specifically about the characters (or the plot…or the conflicts. Yep, reformed pantser here!) Rather, I allowed the hero and heroine to develop along with my slowly climbing word count.
Now when I write I give a lot more thought to my characters before I dive into the story. You no doubt have read about the basic requirements for creating a character: names, physical appearance, GMCs (goals motivations and conflicts), and backstory. These are all VERY important elements. But you need more in order to round your characters out and make them real to the reader.
Here’s my list of requirements (in addition to the above) for ‘leap off the page’ characters:
Habits and Behaviours
Everybody has behaviours or actions that are unique to them. My husband quotes movies as though it’s a second language and I always make my tea in a fancy teacup (I won’t drink it out of a mug). Sometimes the quirk might be something trivial or sometimes it might be more serious. My third book (due out early 2015) features a heroine who suffers with panic attacks and she practises yoga and breathing exercises to combat this.
Understanding what your characters fear will allow you to better figure out how they need to develop in order to reach their happy ever after. In Breaking the Bro Code my hero is afraid of public speaking, but his ‘true fear’ runs deeper than that. Ultimately he fears rejection – whether from an audience or from the heroine – because he was abused as a child. Vulnerability goes along way with getting the reader to fall in love with your characters. Even the most alpha of heroes is afraid of something.
Passion will lead your characters down new and frightening paths, it will force them to change their behaviour and to grow. Again in Breaking the Bro Code the heroine, Elise, is passionate about her struggling dance studio. It the passion to keep her business alive that pushes her to accept a deal from the hero, even though she knows it’s bad idea to work with him. Without that passion her decision to enter into this arrangement would have felt flimsy and contrived.
If all your characters sound the same when they talk and think, they won’t ring true to your readers. Their voice also needs to reflect who they are as people, their personalities and their life experience. For example, in Only The Brave Try Ballet the heroine thinks the following:
“She was determined to be the consummate professional, even if it was harder to pull off than the pas de deux from Don Quixote Act Three.”
Only a ballerina (or someone very familiar with ballet) would compare a person to a pas de duex.
A perfect character is a boring and unrealistic character. The adage that ‘nobody is perfect’ needs to apply to your characters. When designing my characters I like to give them four key personality traits and I ensure that one of those traits isn’t so positive. For example, if you have a character who is hard working, loyal and intelligent I would balance that by making them stubborn or suspicious of others. The negative trait gives you something to work with while you’re helping your characters grow on their journey to happy ever after.
I hope you find this post useful next time you’re working on your characters. I’d love to hear about your characters, have you used any of the above things to make your characters leap off the page? Let me know in the comments below.
Thanks, Stefanie, for this insight!