Grace's Mosaic Moments

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Character Development

Delivering donations to SafeHouse in Altamonte Springs
At their 18th annual Halloween Party the Reale family requested donations for SafeHouse of Seminole, a refuge for victims of domestic violence. Here is a photo of the three grandgirls delivering the donations. (The sunglasses were given to them by SafeHouse.) I donated food but was truly impressed by the wide variety of items contributed by thoughtful partygoers last Friday night.

Weather Report.
In spite of "falling back" to Standard Time, the Orlando area has yet to experience Fall. Our air conditioners remain on, and the temperatures hover 10-12 degrees above normal. This week we experienced our 125th 90° (c. 30+ celsius) day this year. Last night, the Weatherman said he went all the way back to the first records kept in 1892 and could not find any November with three 90° days, let alone three in a row, as we've had this week. Come on, Cold Front, we need you. This is ridiculous!


Character Development has to rank near the top of the requirements for a good book. This week's Mosaic Moments is going to look at only one small portion: dramatic changes in character. This topic cropped up as I began a final edit on my latest, The Welshman's Bride. From the very beginning, I knew I was dealing with a heroine some readers might not like, but that's just the way she was, and there was little I could do about it. 

What on earth does that mean, you ask? She's my character. I created her. I can do anything I want with her.

Uh-uh. Once she's on the page, she takes on a life of her own. She is what she is, and I have to learn to deal with it, just as my readers do. Okay, maybe some authors are more ruthless or more uncaring. They can cut and chop, revise and polish, until their heroines become Miss Goody-Two-Shoes, and only the hero has naughty moments. Well, sorry, I can't do that. Once I create a character, he or she takes on a life of his/her own. They grab the reins and off they go, revealing the story to me as we go along.

To expand on that, in most Romances it seems as if it's always the hero who needs to improve his character - the old "rake in need of redemption" theme. Heroines are all too often well-mannered, long-suffering, self-sacrificing, kind, generous, thoughtful - name a good character trait, they've got it. Yes, they may be allowed to be funny, on occasion. They can even be klutzes, but always kind-hearted ones. 

In my very first book, The Sometime Bride, the only liberty I took with that concept was creating an unusually young heroine. And though the passing of eight years during the course of the book adds more wisdom, her character doesn't truly become independent until late in the book when she discovers how horribly she has been betrayed by the man she's loved since she was fourteen. Thus setting up a situation where the "hero" has an enormous amount of groveling to do before the book can have its HEA. My second heroine, in Tarleton's Wife, is strong from beginning to end. Again, it is the hero who must change his attitude. Another example: Jack, an important secondary character in Tarleton's Wife, also had to change his stripes before his HEA. In fact, he had to wait almost as long in real time for a happy ending as he does in fiction, not getting the girl until the last book in the series, written almost twenty years after the first. The Regency Warrior series, in order: The Sometime Bride, Tarleton's Wife, O'Rourke's Heiress, and Rogue's Destiny (on the back burner for years as "Jack's book").

But when I wrote those books, I was still using the conventional thinking of women displaying their basically "good" personas, while the men had some "improving" to do. And then one day, I sat down to write a contemporary Romantic Suspense set in Florida. In Shadowed Paradise, I drew from my own experience of moving from Connecticut to the Gulf Coast of Florida. And suddenly I had an upper middle class New Englander attempting to deal with a world almost beyond her comprehension. A character who had to push beyond personal tragedy while learning to cope with a new culture and new kinds of personalities, even to the point of having to protect herself and her son from a serial killer. Here, at last, was a heroine whose character was forced to become stronger as the book progressed.

I expanded on this in The Art of Evil, a mystery set at the Ringling Museum in Sarasota. The heroine is physically damaged, wallowing in grief for a lost love. She's cranky, listless, coming back to life only enough to volunteer as a tram driver on sixty-plus acres of a waterfront art gallery, circus museum, and mansion. Only the sudden arrival of a mystery man in her life begins the process of bringing her back to life. (And yes, I had agents, editors, and reviewers say they didn't like her character. Well, really, was she supposed to be cheerful about losing her fiancé and nearly ending up permanently crippled?)

So for a while - without conscious thought about it - I went back to writing heroines who seldom put a foot wrong. (It's all those other people who cause the trouble.) But in my fourth Regency Gothic, I wanted a different kind of heroine. One not so noble or self-sacrificing. One who doesn't turn the other cheek. A spoiled, head-strong beauty who has a fit when her husband does her wrong. This then is the heroine of The Welshman's Bride, and I suspect there will certainly be readers who don't like her. ("But she isn't supposed to be that way!") Only time will tell. I'm looking forward to finding out if my atypical heroine has reader-appeal.

While on the subject of change, I should add that in most mysteries with a female protagonist, the old rules apply. The heroines maintain their characters, even as their Significant Others fall by the way side. The females are inevitably nosy, perspicacious, courageous (sometimes unwisely), steadfast, sometimes funny, frequently threatened, and inevitably smarter than law enforcement. There are always dead bodies, multiple clues, etc., but to keep readers guessing from book to book, almost all have serious ups and downs in their romantic relationships. 

You write mysteries with a male protagonist? You might ask yourself the same question: Should my hero grow and change over the course of the book? Or the course of the series? Because in Mystery, I've noted, this seldom happens. As with female heroines, the main character remains stalwart, while all the changes occur in the people around him or her.

As you write, beware of keeping your protagonist's character static. If you feel your genre demands it, then so be it. But surely having your main characters become wiser and stronger, or possibly suffer a severe slump, can only add an extra dimension to your book. Ladies, don't give all the faults to the men. Men, don't be tempted to blame the sins of the world on women. (As did so many Medieval monks!) Balance the books - add a few faults here and there to your oh-so-perfect Main Character. Okay, we may get shot down for it, but surely the more piquant sauce is better than the bland?

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Thanks for stopping by,


For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.
For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here.


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