Friday, May 7, 2010

Building Characters

. . . or Reluctant Heroes and Kick-Ass Heroines.

That last phrase might be a bit overused. What do you think?
I can't abide a whiny woman though--in real life or in a novel. So there you have it. I'm normally quite tolerant.

Truthfully I've read quite a few articles about "world building" but not so many about "character building." I'm of the opinion that you can create any story line, set it in any location, and throw any circumstances you want at your people--but you need to have good people. You need to start, continue and end with characters that matter. They need to matter to your reader from page one, and when your reader reaches the end, they need to close the book (or turn off the e-reader) with satisfaction but a bit of despair because they don't want to leave your people.

I like a reluctant hero. I like a guy that isn't walking around SEEKING the spotlight. I live near the Ft. Hood Military Base, largest military installation in the world, and we have a lot of what I'd call reluctant heroes. Guys who want to do their job. If they ever end up in the paper or on the news, they're a bit shy about it. You can tell they want the cameraman to hurry up already and move on. These type of men were my inspiration for Dean Dreiser, the lead character in The Cost of Love. He's a lone wolf. I so dig Dean, because he's based on real men that I respect.

Lucinda, my heroine for this book, is a different story. Lucy I have met and know personally. She's Hispanic, beautiful and very bright. Soft-spoken and on the petite side. A man's first response is to protect her. Probably not necessary. Lucy can take care of herself--and then some.

These two characters are what sold my story, The Cost of Love. Yeah--biological weapons, White Sands Missile Base, Roswell, UFOs, etc. helped. But it was the PEOPLE that sold the book. It's always the people.

Have fun building your characters. There's no other job quite like it.


Anonymous said...

Great post, Drue! I agree with you that characters should matter. That means they are dynamic in their own right--not necessarily "likable", a guideline that in my opinion is misinterpreted, overused and trivialized.
Can't wait to read your book!

Terry Odell said...

I posted my notes from the character workshop at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference, and this is so true. You can have a mediocre plot or setting and still have a good book, but you can't have a good book with mediocre characters

Roz Morris aka @Roz_Morris . Blog: Nail Your Novel said...

You're so right. Really great characters will generate a plot all by themselves if you put them under the right pressure. I've just read Revolutionary Road and it does exactly that - it's a total page-turner of a novel because of the brilliantly drawn people.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

I guess we're all in agreement here. If we create characters that readers care about, they're going to read the novel. Characters have to be realistic, flawed people, yet sympathetic. And that's what matters most.

Anonymous said...

I never did like the term, "Kick-ass heroines," even when they were a frequent synonym for Chick Lit. The term was often difficult to carry off, so several stories featured the ridiculous - a willowy heroine, for example, defeating a big bad guy by pounding him with her stiletto heel, or finding a way to defeat him with her lipstick. If Susan Elizabeth Phillips wrote it, I guess I'd laugh along because she writes humor so well. Otherwise, unless a woman is packing heat, she can't really kick a man's ass, so the stories by necessity roll over into the fantasy realm. I prefer characters who possess a strong enough personality, disposition and intellect that they can triumph using those assets rather than resorting to a brute strength such as, um, kicking bottoms. Reading about your Lucinda, it sounds like she belongs in that latter category. Thanks for the thought-provoking discussion.

Anonymous said...

Hi Rebbie - great distinction. Characters that we're mesmerized by, that we're drawn to, that we NEED to know how their story is resolved--aren't necessarily likable. I'm thinking of Dean Koontz and the way he will carry an antagonist through a story. Excellent distinction!

Terry, thanks for the link! Wish I could have been at the conference. : )

Anonymous said...

DWC- I haven't read Revolutionary Road yet, but now I want to check it out! Thanks for the tip.

Jacqueline- "flawed yet sympathetic," we could write more than blogs about that, couldn't we? You're so right.

Anonymous said...

Janet--oh my. Now that I've read your comment, I realize that my mentor, the Great Margie Lawson, would probably kick my ass for even using that cliche. : ) You're correct, of course. For a while, it called to mind almost a comical figure to say a woman was a kick-ass heroine.

I think what draws us to this type of lead female character is the idea that one can have feminity (and all that includes) existing beside strength. When you put that together in a thriller, a ROMANTIC thriller, well it's just plain fun.

Kick-ass, indeed.

Joyce Elson Moore said...

Hi Drue: Thoughtful post. My characters are always buzzing around in my head first, and the plots comes later. I'm reading a book right now that a man in our book club chose. The author starts out with a hair-raising plot, lots of twists and turns, and I'm through the first chapter and don't care a bees' knees about the characters. I may quit reading it. So what you say here really matters. Great post! Looking forward to your others.

Anonymous said...

Hi Joyce. It could be that you and I are picky readers. I've had the same thing happen. Many times I'll stick with a book for pages and pages and halfway through realize I STILL DON'T CARE, and it's always b/c I haven't connected with the characters at all. Give me a character to-die-for, and I'll stay with you through 1200 pages (and that would be Stephen King I speak of). Have a great weekend, Joyce!

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