Friday, August 6, 2010
Birthing Your Characters with Caroline Fyffe
As writers, we all go about birthing our characters in different ways. Sometimes they’re just there, like magic. You know them. You hate them. Doesn’t matter. They jump off the page and scream, “Here I am!” You recognize the sound of their voice and marvel at how beautiful they are, or how revolting. I guess they’ve been alive for some time somewhere in our thoughts, just waiting for the right time to appear.
But other times, we sit and stare at the computer for long, uncomfortable minutes, and nothing happens. As if carved from granite, our brains feel utterly useless. We can’t think of a thing. Minutes pass without relief—then we decide it’s time for a break, at which point we slink away to some mind-relieving diversion.
What makes the process easier is just plunging ahead and getting to know your characters—almost even before they fully exist. For example, interview your characters. Dig deep and be creative with your questions—what are their hopes and fears, their likes and dislikes?--and you’ll find out some astonishing things. Personally, I like to create a family tree. In so doing, I discover a host of interesting things not only about my hero and heroine, but about their parents, grandparents, and other relatives, as well. I give each one a hometown, as well as dates for when they were born, married, died, and so on. Then I add occupations, quirky little traits and, of course, their physical descriptions. In a couple of hours, I can have some really good information with which to anchor my story. That means I never have to dig for that all-important minutiae that brings a story to life, because it’s always right there in front of me. Not all of my information makes it into the plot, mind you, but whenever I’m stuck, often all it takes to get me going again are some handy facts to start the gears turning.
Choosing the perfect name for your hero and heroine is also a challenge. Of course, you don’t want names that sound too similar to those of the other characters in the story because your reader can get mixed up. I usually try to have each name begin with a different letter, again to avoid confusion. And, making names so outrageously different or difficult to pronounce slows your story down. I’ve come across books that got me riled because the heroine’s name was so bloody hard to pronounce that I’d totally avoid it. I don’t want my readers avoiding the most important person in the story. But, on the other hand, the right amount of creativity with names is can be a good thing. Almost so obvious I shouldn’t even mention it is this: Be sure the name is time-appropriate for the era of your book, as well as appropriate for the ethnicity of the character.
Then, too, sometimes names or characters just find you! A few years ago I was at a horse show where I was shooting photographs of reining horses. Each horse-and-rider pair came into the arena individually to compete before six judges. The pattern took approximately three-and-a-half minutes to complete, and the names of the horse and rider were announced as they entered and again as they exited the arena. As it happened, I was working on a western historical set in Montana at the time, and needed a good western-y name that would encompass all that I wanted my hero and his big ranching family to be.
I started testing each of the entries’ names on for size. Boyl, Kyle, Carrier, and Wells rode in, all good names, mind you, but not quite right for my hero and his brothers. Callahan, Arnold, and Hendricks, too. The night passed. I shot pictures. Did I mention reinings go on for many hours? Sometimes there are sixty to seventy head to compete. I got discouraged. Nothing seemed to fit…then a beautiful thing happened. A particular entry caught my eye. The horse, a true athlete, was muscular and fluid, and the rider was tall and lean. The name announced was McCutcheon. The moment the announcer said it, I knew it was a done deal. Thus was my hero, Luke McCutcheon, born. Or, should I say, christened.
Here’s a little about Luke’s story: MONTANA DAWN takes place in the little town of Y Knot, Montana in the late 1800s. The McCutcheons, a cattle ranching family, have carved a dynasty from the wilderness by the sweat of their brow and honorable values. Luke McCutcheon, the third brother and the hero of this story, is the only one who was sired by an American Indian, when his mother was taken captive. He’s the trail boss for the once-a-year cattle drive the McCutcheons make. When he comes upon Faith Brown giving birth in her wagon, he’s shocked to learn her little son is Faith’s only help. He agrees to stay and deliver her child. And that’s when all the fun begins….
I love stories about big families. I wanted to give Luke as much unconditional love as he needed to battle his own ghosts about his heritage. John McCutcheon, the youngest brother, is introduced in MONTANA DAWN, but you don’t actually meet him until my next book, ONCE UPON A TEXAS TWILIGHT, planned for next year.
Today, in celebration of the release of MONTANA DAWN, I’m offering a copy to a commenter.
Also, if you go to my website and sign up for my newsletter (www.carolinefyffe.com) you’ll be entered for a basket filled with candies, chocolates, muffin mix, a handsome coffee mug (filled with more chocolate!) and a jar of scrumptious jam, all made from the Big Sky State’s coveted huckleberry. Also included are autographed copies of both MONTANA DAWN and WHERE THE WIND BLOWS. It’s as easy as pie, and the winner will be drawn on December 10th, 2010--just in time for Christmas.
Thanks for having me join you here today in Seekerville. It’s always a party filled with friends, smiles and good wishes. Thank you!
As an equine photographer, Caroline Fyffe has worked throughout the United States and in Germany. Long days in the middle of a horse show arena have given her plenty of opportunity to dream up stories filled with love, heartbreak, joy, sorrow, triumph, and twisting-turning plots. Her feisty heroines and bold, hot-blooded heroes will charm you as they fall for each other in the darnedest ways. Her love for horses and the old West inspired her debut book, Where The Wind Blows, which won Romance Writer's of America's prestigious Golden Heart Award under the title Chasing Jessie, and was released in 2009. Her second manuscript was a Golden Heart Finalist in 2007. She is the mother of two wonderful boys and has been married for 27 years.