But beyond a general idea of my main characters' personalities, creating their names and a bit of family background, I let these people develop on their own. This, however, is not a method that works for everyone, so today I'm going to suggest some more questions you might want to ask yourself about your characters, particularly the hero, heroine, and villain (if applicable). If you wish, you can extend the same questions to your most important secondary characters.
First, a not-apocryphal tale.
My mother, Wilma Pitchford Hays, was an author. While I was growing up, she wrote serial stories for Modern Romances, a Dell publication. We lived quite a ways from New York City, but I can recall her getting all dressed up, complete with hat and gloves, to go into the city to meet her editor. After each discussion, the editor would always escort her "upstairs" to Mr. Delacorte's office to speak for a few minutes to "the boss." (Sorry, I don't think I ever knew which Delacorte brother it was.) But according to my mother, he evidently had an eye for an attractive author!
When my mother paid my last college tuition, she switched to writing children's books (for three different age levels) and became well-known in that field. But I never forgot the story she told me when I was in high school and she was writing one of her serial romances for Dell. She said she never intended for her heroine and the two men vying for her love to all end up in a lake at the same time. The characters simply took over, and it happened, just like that. Since this was an open-ended story, where the readers got to decide which man triumphed, I expect this caused quite a stir. Did she have to drown one of the men? I don't think she ever told me that. But the concept of characters grabbing a story and running with it stuck in my mind. And it's certainly happened to me. Some days I start out intending to write A, and suddenly my fingers are typing B, or maybe something so very different I should call it XYZ.
Is this good? For me it has been. The new zig or zag always seemed to be more creative than what I'd planned. Which is why I'm an "out of the mist" writer, always willing to accommodate fresh ideas.
If, however, this new idea takes you off on a tangent not relevant to the story, then it's bad. Change your intended plot angle, change your setting, change the point of view, but never wander more than a few inches off the path of the story you're telling.
Questions you might want to ask about your characters:
1. What makes your main character (or characters) tick? Are they tough and streetwise or sweet and innocent? Sophisticated, loud, sarcastic, a wise-guy or gal? Sly or honest? Thief or Protector? Full of humor or never cracks a smile? Arrogant or humble? Loner or People Person? Maybe a Turtle - hard outside, soft inside? A Clam (90% of the males of the species)? Or maybe a Brick - hard through and through. (If so, he'd better be the villain.)
2. What triumphs or anguish have your main characters suffered in the past? How has it affected them? (The same for the villain.)
3. Are your hero and heroine different from the main characters in your previous books? If not, figure out how you can make this pair of main characters unique. Even if you're writing a series, you will want to add some new quirk to your primary character's personality that might not have shown up before. And you will want to provide a different set of secondary characters for your main character to play against.
4. Have the hero and heroine met before? If so, was it significant?
5. Do some of the secondary characters know each other? If so, how? Do they work together, party together, study together, etc.
6. What is the major conflict between the hero and heroine? Is it a product of their background, lifestyle, inner angst? Or are they more beset by outside forces (someone's trying to kill them)? If you're dealing mostly with inner conflicts, you need to get inside your main characters' heads and show your readers what they are suffering, and why.
7. What do your main characters do for a living? Even if you're writing an historical, your characters undoubtedly have a particular job they are expected to do, although that job might have been "inherited," rather than the "choice" we expect to have today.
8. How does their job relate to their goal in the book? Do they love what they do or hate it? Are their actions in the story from a sense of duty, a need for revenge, frustration with the life they have, desperation to save someone? Or maybe save themselves. Perhaps their everyday life has nothing to do with the action of the book. This is just one more thing you need to consider. And while doing it, you might find a whole new aspect (or even a small detail) to add to your story. Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy. The jobs are different and so are the personalities required to do those jobs.
Reminder: Keep in mind that, whatever you decide, your hero and heroine must be likable. They can have faults, but the reader must be able to trust that those faults will be overcome. Even if one or both starts off perfectly obnoxious, there must be something that indicates this attitude won't last. (Kind to children, animals, his/her grandmother, gives to charity, etc.)
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|The best photo of me in years! - taken at a Halloween party Saturday night|
Next blog: More questions, a closer look at villains, and some wind-up elaboration on the tricky topic of "How to Develop Your Characters."
For Grace's books as Blair Bancroft, please see Blair's website
For info on edits & copy edits, contact Best Foot Forward at editsbyBFF@aol.com