Last weekend cj and I attended Carolyn Haines’s Daddy’s Girl Weekend for writers and readers. From pirate costumed participants, ghost tours, and treasure hunts to serious discussions of the art of writing, not a minute of the weekend was wasted. Carolyn's new cookbook to benefit Good Fortune Farm Refuge is jam-packed with wonderful recipes which we tasted throughout the weekend. Buy one and save an animal.
I made new friends and had the privilege of hanging out with some well-published authors, an agent, and several publishers. My head is still reeling with new ideas I want to incorporate into my writing.
I was especially thrilled when my belief that characters are the key to the story was supported repeatedly. While I know that is self-aggrandizement at its height, it’s what I believe and teach in my character development classes.
Holly McClure, well-known agent with Sullivan & Maxx Literary Agency, pointed out that characters need to talk to the author. We need to know our characters better than we know ourselves to bring them to life on the page.
Listening to the authors who have successful book series (proof positive they created good characters) and others with numerous publications under their belt — Carolyn Haines, Dean James, Sue Walker, Holly McClure, John Floyd, David Sheffield, Cynthia Walker—it was obvious that characters and a reader’s connection to them is pivotal to the success of a book.
The bottom line: take the time to develop your characters. Dig out those character sheets you got at a conference or read about in a book on character development and fill them out. That will get you started. Then bring them to life with psychological and sociological information.
I teach my creative writing students that a character is developed through profiling: physical, psychological, and sociological. We are all the sum of our experiences, our looks, our surroundings. Our personalities develop through our experiences/choices/ desires/decisions.
Think your characters are blah?
Create something they hate or love: people, place, or thing, then expose them to it.
Give them a tic. Who can forget Inspector Jacques Clouseau in Pink Panther movies? His clumsiness kept us laughing. Add to that the eye tic of the commissioner when Clouseau created another disaster and you have memorable characters. Want to go to the dark side? Hannibal Lecter and his fetishes will take you there. Check out R. B. Chesterton’s The Darkling.
Make them vulnerable. How will your characters get what they want or need from where they are starting? Examples: True Grit (youth). Rocky (loser). Argo (impossible). Steel Magnolias (disease). Great Expectations (poor). The Language of Flowers (stranded).
The most fully developed, deeply motivated characters are always the most compelling, no matter how ordinary they might be. Think Mrs. Dalloway, Jane Eyre, A Gathering of Old Men.
Flesh them out now, and your readers will thank you later.
Kudos to cj who sat on the mystery writers panel! Mahala