Grace's Mosaic Moments

Monday, October 29, 2012


My personal approach to developing characters is pretty laissez-faire. I have, of course, spent some time thinking about these people and their possible problems before I even attempted to name them (as we did in Part 1). For how can I know what names are right for them if I haven't "met" them yet? That's one of the great things about being an author, we don't have to "take what we get," we can create exactly the people we want. (Wow, if only we could do that in real life!) I guess that's why so many people enjoy the fantasy world of romance.

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.)

~ * ~

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."  

Thanks for stopping by.

For Grace's books as Blair Bancroft, please see Blair's website
For info on edits & copy edits, contact Best Foot Forward at

Monday, October 22, 2012


Not all surprises are good ones. Lady Christine Ashford, daughter of the Earl of Bainbridge, is enjoying a glorious first season in London when tragedy strikes. Suddenly, she and her two younger sisters are thrust from the glitter of the London ton to the far reaches of Yorkshire, where they must live with relatives until the new earl returns from his diplomatic post in Canada. To compound Christine’s grief, her Yorkshire cousin decides she and her generous dowry are just what he needs, making her situation untenable.

The problem seems to be solved when the girls’ guardian, Harlan Ashford, the new Earl of Bainbridge, returns and makes Christine an offer of marriage. But the shock of her father’s death and the intrusion into their lives of a perfect stranger make it difficult for her to adapt to being a bride.  As Christmas approaches, Christine is faced with two unhappy sisters and a decidedly unhappy husband. She has a decision to make—maintain her strict mourning and intransigent behavior or save her marriage. Is it possible one last surprise, a happy one, can bring Christmas spirit to a house of mourning? And perhaps love as well?

Note: Blair Bancroft is Grace's alter ego.

Ellora's Cave Link:

Amazon Link:

DON'T GO AWAY!   See Suwanee Addendum below:

Shot in the driveway of our Suwanee neighbor's house. And, yes, that's a rattlesnake!   

 I'm inclined to think there's such a thing as getting too far away from civilization.

~ * ~

Coming Soon: Part 2 of "How to Develop Your Characters"

Thanks for stopping by.


Monday, October 15, 2012


At a booksigning at Orlando’s Central Library last August, a young lady asked me: “How do you develop your characters?” I gulped and thought fast, because I never took a writing class, read a “how to” book, or even stopped to think about it before. Fortunately, I managed to come up with at least the germ of a reply, but I vowed on the spot to examine the subject more thoroughly and write a blog post about it. So here is Part 1.


Put quite simply, there is nothing more important than characterization when writing fiction. Even the best Action/Adventure books and the best Erotica feature well-drawn characters. Are there many books that don’t? You betcha! (And I never get beyond the first ten pages.) But most readers demand more than guns/swords/chase scenes/explosions or heaving bosoms and graphically delineated bare body parts. For which writers like me, who really care about our characters, are eternally grateful!

As I have written when critiquing hundreds of contest entries for the Romance Writers of America: readers want to love their hero and heroine. They want to empathize with them, feel their joys, their sorrows, the warmth of that final Happily Ever After. It’s all right for these main characters to have faults. In fact, faults, whether major or minor, usually add color to the story. But readers always need to know that these faults are going to be resolved. Or perhaps realize that the fault is so minor it can be more endearing than annoying.

Secondary Characters are important too. Even though they might not have a Point of View (the story is not being seen through their eyes), they can add an immense amount of color to your book. Villainy, humor, anger, spice, annoyance, etc. The secondary characters can be a sounding board for the Hero’s and Heroine’s thoughts or actions. They can provide shock, condemnation, comic relief. They allow exposition of ideas and plot action through dialogue with the Hero or Heroine. They can also be the Villain or the Bad Guys. As long as you don’t allow them to overshadow the Hero or Heroine (which can happen all too easily), Secondary Characters are vital to a good book.

So how do you make your readers empathize with your characters?
Where do you start?

1.    NAMES.  Your characters can’t come to life until they have names, first and last. When approaching a new book, I spend a lot of time looking through my old baby-name books, searching for first names. I scribble a bunch of possibilities on a yellow legal pad, and then I go on a search for last names. For example, for my Regency books I have a notebook full of typical surnames for the English upper classes. And long lists of less noble English surnames, most of them garnered from the phone book! I also have a book listing all the towns and hamlets in England, an excellent source of last names for that era. If I need foreign first names, an Internet search can be very helpful. Last names? Again, the phone book, adjusting for possible Americanized spellings. (Of course, if you’ve given up phone books, you may have to look elsewhere!) 

    When I have a list of first and last names on my yellow pad, I try pairing them up, seeing which ones will work. Which one best suits my hero . . . which best suits my heroine. Naturally, as I do this, I am forced to think about them, molding vague outlines into more human form. After that, I use a similar method to develop names for the characters in the book’s first scene. As well as any important characters who appear later in the book.

    Is this name search important, worth spending the time? For the Hero, Heroine, and major Secondary Characters, absolutely. The names should suit the people you have in mind. And the process of choosing will help anchor these people in your mind. They go, for example, from “Heir to a duke” and “Engineer’s daughter” to the names you see in the list below. They rise off the paper and become people.

2.    CHARACTER LIST.  After I have created names for my Hero, Heroine, and the characters in the book’s first scene, I type up a  Character List.  I put the character’s name first, then who they are. (If I don’t know the physical description yet, I add it as soon as it becomes clear.)  Example - the first few entries from my newest book, Lady of the Lock (Release Date - c. November 2012):

                                                Character List  -  Lady of the Lock

Bourne Granville Hayden Challenor, Marquess of Montsale  [From Lady Silence]
    Heir to the Duke of Carewe   [added later: brown hair, flint gray eyes, mother - Rosalind]

Amanda Grace Merriwether - a young lady of the upper middle class
    [added later: bronze hair, green eyes, mother - Caroline]

John Merriwether, her father, a canal architect/engineer [added later: blond, blue eyes]    

Lady Eulalia Tynsdale - wealthy & eccentric dowager baroness

Note: at the beginning, before I’ve named everyone, part of the list might read:

Lady Tynsdale’s companion
Nasty mother & daughter in Bath
John’s young engineers
Butler in Bath

As the book progresses, I add each new character to the list, from friends of the h/h to butlers, housekeepers & maids. In Lady of the Lock, the list eventually ran to three pages, plus a scribbled entry for the name of a horse!

3.    FAMILY BACKGROUND. Although you may not use all the people in your main characters’ backgrounds in your book, it is helpful to figure out what their background is. Were they raised with the proverbial silver spoon, or did they struggle in poverty? Were they only children, or was the hero hen-pecked by a bevy of sisters? Did the heroine constantly struggle to keep up with a host of brothers? Is his/her aunt or grandmother kindly or a shrew? Does the father dote on his daughter, or is he, perhaps, a monster?  Has the hero been on his own since an early age? Is he a bastard? Or is his greatest obstacle learning to stand on his own two feet, because he has led too privileged a life? Is there an uncle who wants to do away with the heroine because he will inherit her fortune? Or is the heroine someone who is willing to sacrifice her happiness for her family? Do we have a wounded hero who returns from war to a country where no family waits? Or one who is deluged with so much love and “help” that he has to get away? Do we have a policeman from a long line of law enforcement, or is he the first of his “old money” family to join the force?

    The list of questions you should ask yourself could be endless, but usually only a short Q&A will be enough to get you started. The rest of your characters’ personality traits or outside influences can develop as you go along. Don’t mire yourself down with endless note cards, storyboarding, movie star photos, etc. Get your names down, decide on your main characters’ background and consequent  personalities, and let the rest develop as you begin to know your character better. As you craft dialogue that is “right” for that character. As your character interacts with the other characters in a variety of ways. Each scene should speak to you, as well as to the reader. Telling you who these characters are.

Special Note on Character:  For those who missed Nora Roberts’s description of Tucker Longstreet, posted in “Edit the Blasted Book, Part 5,” please check out my blog for June 18, 2012. It is the most perfect example of delineating a character in a few brief paragraphs that I have ever seen.  Warning:  It is in Omnipotent or Author POV, which seems to be out of favor at the moment. But that doesn't keep this passage from being an outstanding example of characterization. You can always use it as a shining example of how you should develop your hero or heroine in your mind before you begin to write.

For my other blogs on writing topics, see “Index to Writing Blogs,” August 26, 2012.

                                                                          ~ * ~

Next Blog: In Part 2 of “How to Develop Your Characters,” I’ll list more questions you can ask yourself in an effort to create characters with depth, characters readers can empathize with, characters readers can love, hate, laugh with, etc. (From the many notes I wrote myself today, I suspect this topic may run to a Part 3.)

Thanks for stopping by.

Grace, who writes as Blair Bancroft 

Blair's Website
or check out my books on Kindle, Smashwords, Nook, et al

Saturday, October 6, 2012


The Suwanee, which was leveed long enough ago that trees have grown up

To view the Suwanee, you have to climb 8-10 feet up the levee. To fish, about 20 feet down.

Today's blog is a continuation of last week's tale about my trip to the Suwanee in northern Florida. If you haven't read Part 1, you can scroll down and find it below this post.

Cliffhanger: What was a deputy sheriff doing at the family hideaway in the middle of nowhere at 3:15 a.m.?

Would you believe, someone in this back end of nowhere saw the truck driving past at 2:30 a.m. and called the Sheriff's Department because they were afraid we were thieves about to take furniture OUT of the house? We reassured the deputy that we were bringing items IN, not taking things out, and that the home was under new ownership. (I guess with a mother, grandmother and three young children all hovering in the background, the three men didn't look too criminal.) We also told him we were delighted to discover that such a good watch was kept on such an outlying area. Whew! Now we could finally go to bed.

I paid little attention to my room in the middle of the night, except to take great care winding my way through the narrow corridor to my bed. But while huddling in there the next day, editing a manuscript, while our three guys tiled and laid floorboards so diligently there was no place to walk, I made a list of the contents of the room: an ugly utilitarian desk with high top, obviously salvaged from the original furnishings. But it was mostly hidden behind an anonymous 4 x 6 wood panel the men dragged in just before starting the floors. In a corner by the desk: numerous 10-foot strips of white molding, five fish poles (with a good-size fish net on top of the desk extension). Also in front of the desk was a huge cardboard carton (30x30x30?), which was supposed to contain pillows but was later discovered to be full of assorted comforters and blankets. (Note: I'm just getting started!

I laid out my water glass and eyeglasses on an unopened, upturned box of an 18-piece set of pots and pans (which the kitchen was not yet ready to receive). My cosmetics bag sat on a pistol target! At the end of my bed were three folding chairs (folded) and five huge cartons of canned vegetables. The closet (doorless) was stuffed with an assortment of unidentifiable oddments. About all that stood out in the jumble was a sewing kit I had put together for my daughter at some time . . . and a liquor bottle. Oh yes, my room was also doorless. I didn't get a door until late Saturday morning - when we talked the guys into taking a break from doing floors. 

Kitchen under construction
This is the kitchen on Labor Day weekend. Fortunately, by the time I arrived a couple of weeks later the kitchen had acquired a coffee pot, a toaster, and some utensils. (No sugar.) So, thank goodness, we were able to have coffee & pastries for breakfast.

Kitchen area and a bit of the unfloored living room

The reason why underbrush & some trees had to be cleared
I'm told the entire woods was filled with them!

I am happy to say that when we walked down to the river, we did not see a single one of the above. It is, however, exactly like the spider we hit when we were creeping past the truck on the grass verge during our emergency on the Florida Turnpike. No wonder the little girls screamed every time we rolled down the window to talk to the men. They were certain the spider was clinging to the car, just waiting to jump in. We did see some some insects on our walk to the Suwanee—about 3-4" long, wearing a yellow & brown camouflage pattern. We eventually discovered they were praying mantises. Very odd, as the ones I'd seen in Connecticut were c. 6" and lime green. (The difference between lawn mantises and woods mantises?)

Living Room with new floor, new furniture, new sheer curtains & draperies
While the men sawed, glued, grouted tile, and moved large appliances, the five females drove to town (an hour round-trip). I shopped for groceries (including two kinds of sugar!) while my daughter bought the curtains, draperies, & couch cushions seen above, plus a "grout sponge" the men said they absolutely had to have. Also the kitchen towel, oven mitts, knife set, etc., seen below. By Sunday the place was almost looking civilized. My room? Still exposed to the outside world (no curtains), but at least I had a door between me and the hallway!

Kitchen by Sunday afternoon
Beautiful, right? Except that shortly after we returned from town, I heard a scream and came dashing out of my room to find a tableau of people poised outside the open door beneath the sink. It seems the exterminator had been there while we were shopping, and when my daughter opened the cabinet door, there was a mouse stuck to some kind of mouse-trapping sticky paper. The problem - the mouse was still alive and no one would touch it. Among our three brave men, only one was willing. He told the little girls he let the mouse go outside. It is, however, far more likely the mouse is now resting in mouse heaven. 

 However, the house now boasted a full floor, genuine wood dining table and six chairs, plus a just-hung chandelier, so about an hour later we had our first meal in the hideaway. Hamburgers grilled on the screenless screen porch (which also contained mountains of timber and a skill saw). With the addition of chips, salad & dressing from the groceries we bought in town, we dined in what seemed like true splendor after all the chaos.

We even found some time to play. I thought to help the six-year-old play poker but when I advised folding, she returned a resounding "No!" And won. On the family's next visit, however, the nine-year-old beat everyone with a Royal Flush, as can be seen below.

I hope you've enjoyed this all-too-true tale of "Way Down Upon the Suwanee River." When I sang Stephen Foster's song as a child in New England, I never expected to actually see the river. Or spend a couple of nights in a hideaway along its banks.

ADDENDUM to the Suwanee experience. Three weeks later . . .

Shot in the neighbor's driveway - and yes, that's a rattlesnake.
 One can't help but wonder if "getting away from it all" is worth the angst.

Bye-bye, Su-wan-eee . . .

~ * ~ 

Thanks for stopping by. If no other unusual adventures crop up, I hope to get back to writing topics in my next blog, most likely a response to a question I was asked at a recent book-signing: "How do you develop your characters?"


P.S.  If you're so inclined, please check out my website at  or simply search "Blair Bancroft" on Kindle, Nook, Smashwords, Sony et al.