Friday, June 21, 2013

Please welcome our guest Robin Lee Hatcher

  

        
CREATING CHARACTERS WHO BREATHE
 
                                         by Robin Lee Hatcher

I love discovering the inner workings of my characters. I love it when they come to life and begin telling me their stories. I love it when they become my companions and my friends.

Writers often fall into two camps: those who develop their stories around plots and those who develop their stories around characters. But remember, a strong plot without living, breathing, believable characters cannot succeed, no matter how brilliant it is. If readers don't care about the people in your stories, they're not going to care what happens to them (i.e. your plot).  Fall in love with your characters. Find out what makes them tick. Then they can tell you their story. After all, your characters are the ones living it, not you.

My favorite way to discover who my characters are is to use what is called “stream of consciousness writing.” I write a first person autobiography of the characters, starting from their birth and writing right up to the time the story begins. I let my imagination take over and write whatever pops into my head, things like, “When I was five, I tried to fly off the roof of the garage while pretending to be Superman. I broke my arm in two places.” I believe most writer's block occurs because a writer doesn't yet know her character's "character."

Remember that everyone has the potential within them for every kind of human behavior––from good to bad and everything in between. Get in touch with those emotions and the emotions of those around you. Become a student of human behavior. Learn to empathize. It's one of the most important abilities a writer of fiction must have. Cultivate an ability to see things from different points of view. As you mature as a writer, you will do well to study the way people really are--not what they ought to be.

Every strong personality trait in one of your characters must have a reason, something in his past (whether distant or not) that provides the force moving him in that direction. If you're forcing a character to do something because your plot won't work without it, then you're in trouble. Forget about your reason for your hero to do it. What's his reason?

Your heroine must be motivated by something that is of utmost importance to her. If she is going to risk her fortune, her family, her life to gain something, she'd better have a good reason, some reason that her goal is worth so very much. Think of motivation in cost/benefit terms. No matter how complex or peculiar your character's desire may be, you can make it credible for her to seek it if you are able to show that to her it's worth whatever it costs.

Don't short change your secondary characters. Remember that, as far as they're concerned, they are the center of the story and your hero and heroine are merely minor characters. Secondary characters' motivations and actions must ring as true as your central characters. Each secondary character should be so real to you that, if you chose, you could write a story about them.

           Take the time to develop and understand your characters. If you do, they will never fail you. Your readers will see them as real people living real lives, and they will love you for it.

        Robin will give away a copy of her book Heart of Gold. The hero and heroine from that book make a cameo appearance in her novella in A Bride for All Seasons.


                                                            ***

Best-selling novelist Robin Lee Hatcher (author of 70 books) is known for her heartwarming and emotionally charged stories of faith, courage, and love. She discovered her vocation after many years of reading everything she could put her hands on, including the backs of cereal boxes and ketchup bottles. Winner of the Christy, the RITA, the Carol, the Inspirational Reader’s Choice, the Booksellers Best, the Holt, the National Readers Choice, among other awards, Robin is also a recipient of the prestigious RWA Lifetime Achievement Award. Her 2012 releases are currently finalists for the RITA Award (Betrayal), the National Readers Choice Award (Heart of Gold), and the Inspirational Readers Choice Award (Heart of Gold).


Robin's new release is A Bride forAll Seasons, a mail order bride collection written with Margaret Brownley, Debra Clopton, and Mary Connealy. In September, the third book in the Where the Heart Lives series, Beloved, will release.

Http://www.robinleehatcher.com
 

74 comments:

Marianne Barkman said...

Robin, how can I tell on line if your books are new or rewritten? I love your novels...and would love to win A Bride For All Seasons.
Have been having fun at the retreat

Natalie Monk said...

Hi, Robin! I love what you said about character motivation. And secondary characters! I need to work on that. Thanks for the wonderful insight!

Virginia Carmichael Munoz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Virginia Carmichael Munoz said...

heehee! Let me try that again...

I love this post! I think I'm a character driven writer. I love getting into my characters' heads and hearts.

Plots, on the other hand... I'm always amazed when people can produce really intricate plots. It's my downfall and I spend so much time working on plot.

Thanks for the insight!

Jackie said...

Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Robin.

When I write romantic suspense my stories are plot driven. When I write romance they are character driven.

This post will help me immensely. Thanks again.

karenk said...

a wonderful posting, robin...looking forward to reading your latest novel.

karenk
kmkuka at yahoo dot com

Kav said...

Oh My Goodness Gracious -- Kav has a light bulb moment over this:

"I write a first person autobiography of the characters, starting from their birth and writing right up to the time the story begins."

I was sooo excited I started doing that right away even though I'd gotten up at 4:30 because I wanted to get to work early early but instead I wrote and had so much fun I missed early early, skipped early and scrambled to get to work on time. Bah! Yay! Conflicted emotions because I wanted to get a head start on the monumental task of packing up a library so it can be painted this summer but I'm happy, happy, happy over this innovative first person autobiography idea. :-)

Bridgett Henson said...

Robin, Thank you for this wonderful post. I love your books and believe I own them all. :)

There is a saying. "A chain is only as strong as its weakest link."

And I remember reading somewhere an author say. "Your book is only as strong as its weakest character."

While all of my books have a suspense element that drives the plot, I try to connect with my characters on a deeper level.

I think this is why I had so much trouble with one of my ms. I was on deadline and didn't take the time emphasize with my characters.

Thank you again for the reminder.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Hi ROBIN LEE, Welcome to Seekerville. I always enjoy your books and characters. Now I know how they are so strong and well written. Thanks for sharing your tips on developing those characters.

Have fun today.

strgth4yu said...

Robin, love your books! Would love to win one of your books!

Linda Ortiz
strgth4yu(at)Hotmail(dot)com

Connie Queen said...

Robin, the first book I ever wrote was character driven. It didn't matter what situation or conversation they were in, I knew exactly how they would react. It made the writing so easy.

Every story since then, has been plot driven. I have to think and change scenes more often. I'll try your advice and see if I can get to know my people better.

Please put my name in for your book.

Jeanne T said...

Thanks for your ideas for getting into the heads of our characters! I especially loved what you said about our secondary characters, how as far as they're concerned, they are at the center of the story! GREAT reminder!

Debra Clopton said...

Robin good morning! What a great idea! Speaking of breathing I almost stopped breathing yesterday in the interview as I waited for Tricia to ask me a question lol you, Margaret and Mary were so very composed! I could just see me freezing up on live radio. But that and working with you on A Bride For All Seasons was such a cool experience. I learn something from you everyday!

Donna Hunt said...

Thank you for sharing such valuable insight, Robin! Characters who breathe are what puts a book on my keeper shelf! :)

Julie Lessman said...

WELCOME BACK TO SEEKERVILLE, ROBIN!! As usual, EXCELLENT blog today and, I must say, most timely for this author.

Your statement that "most writer's block occurs because a writer doesn't yet know her character's "character."

Oh, WOW, sooooo true!! I have been struggling with the characters in my next book SO MUCH that I have hit a wall and cannot go forward, so this blog today is a LIFESAVER! Thank you, Robin, for the nudge I needed!!

Hugs,
Julie

CatMom said...

Good Morning sweet Robin!! SO happy to see you on the Seeker's blog today, and LOVED your post. (Another definite one for my Keeper File)

As a "people person" I am always fascinated by different personalities (and genuinely love people with different personalities--as evidenced by the "variety" of friends I have, LOL). But I'm still working on really making my characters come alive, so I DO plan on using your suggestions (especially writing out the character's story in a first-person POV).

Thank you SO much for taking time to share with everyone today, and a huge CONGRATULATIONS (again!) on being a RITA Finalist and also on the numerous awards you've won in the past (WOW).
Hugs from Georgia, Patti Jo

Mary Connealy said...

Hi Robin. Thanks for being on Seekerville.
My WIP is right now in that moment I always reach when I feel like I haven't dug deep enough.
I'm about halfwway done and so much is in order but my characters don't quite BREATHE.
And I even know why. I've been so busy telling my story that I haven't taken the time to develop the characters. So I'm going through and strengthening that right now.

Mary Connealy said...

DEBRA did I really seem composed to you? I was mostly just sitting there while the rest of you talked thinking, "Talk longer, don't get to me, please, one of you tell a twenty minute story! C'mon!!!"

But it came out sounding composed, huh? Weird!

That interview is supposed to be available as a podcast. If I can figure out how to access it (and what a podcast is!) I'll share the link here.

Robin Lee Hatcher said...

Marianne, I don't believe there is anyway online that you can tell this, but if you will go to my web site and use the contact form to email me (robinleehatcher.com/email/, I can send you the list of "redeemed" books.

Robin Lee Hatcher said...

Kav, so glad the first person autobiography was helpful to you. I've been doing it for about two decades. The surprising things I discover about my characters from that tool!

Robin Lee Hatcher said...

Glad the post helped you, Julie! Write on!

Susan Anne Mason said...

Hi Robin,

First let me say how much I enjoy your books! Your characters really are the reason -- they are so believable and real.

I also LOVE the autobiogaphy idea and am going to start that today on my characters! (Love Kav's enthusiasm!!)

Don't enter me in the draw as I have read and loved "Heart of Gold".

Have a great day!

Sue

Robin Lee Hatcher said...

Debra and Mary, the interview was so much fun yesterday. You both did great. If you were nervous, it didn't show at all. I'm a ten out of ten on the extravert scale and I was President of RWA for two years. Nothing much phases me anymore.

The podcasts often aren't put up right away. It may take a few days to be available.

Kav said...

Oh -- the podcast!!!! I tuned in to the last ten minutes 'cause I was waiting for Amish Wisdom to come up. I didn't even know about Living Inspired! I was so excited -- anyway, I heard Tricia talking about Christine Fiction and then she asked responses from Debby, Margaret, Robin...at Robin I clued in and then when Mary said her bit I was tickled to my toes to have figured out it was the authors for A Bride For All Seasons.

The podcast link is up now:

http://toginet.com/podcasts/livinginspired/?s=livinginspired

I'm going to listen to the whole thing when I get home from work.

You all were absolutely eloquent and I was touched by what you said about writing Christian Fiction. And Mary did a wonderful wrap up. Sniffle. I get goosebumps just thinking about it. I have to say that y'all have achieved your goals and Christian fiction has touched my life in numerous ways and definitely brought me closer to Christ and strengthened my faith.

Myra Johnson said...

Robin, so nice to have with us in Seekerville again! Loved listening to your live broadcast yesterday with Mary, Margaret, and Debra--so fun to hear how each of you approach writing in general as well as how the novella collection came about.

My favorite part of writing a book is "meeting" the characters and learning their secrets--which they often don't often tell me until I'm halfway through the draft.

Even after free-writing the autobiographies, do you still discover things as you write the story that you wish the characters had told you sooner?

Kav said...

Oops that should have been Christian Fiction. My fingers ran away with the keys!

Elaine Manders said...

Robin,

I have several of your books in my library and would love a chance to win another.

I've never written a first person autobiography of my characters before, but I've found myself digging into their past, their parents, even grandparents. Now I know why I did. I wanted to find what made those characters tick.

Thanks for your insight.

Robin Lee Hatcher said...

Myra, yes, there are still some discoveries I make as I write. But writing a book is an act of discovery for me. Every day I get up hoping to find what happens next.

Sherida Stewart said...

Thank you, Robin! I'll be working on my characters' autobiographies. I do like my secondary characters, so that could be possibilities for future writing. Great thoughts to consider! Thanks!

Amber Perry said...

Robin, this is a great post--thank you! I know its really the characters a person first remembers about a story...not plot, setting, era, etc. Making the characters "breathe" as you say, is key! Thanks again!

Janet Dean said...

Welcome to Seekerville, Robin!
Love your stories and enjoyed hearing your method for bringing your characters to life. I used stream of consciousness writing to discover the hero and heroine in my wip. Somehow writing in first person made a huge difference. I need to do this for my secondary characters, too.

As a character driven storyteller, do you have difficulty coming up with fresh plots? Or do you have a million stories in your head begging to be told?

I didn't get to hear you gals on radio but will check out the podcast thanks to Kav!

Janet

Lyndee H said...

Hi Robin,
Stream of consciousness writing has been a lifesaver for me. I love the creativity it releases and the twists and turns that my characters throw at me against the 'rules' of my strictly written outline, ha! Great post. Thanks!

Robin Lee Hatcher said...

Janet, I am a total 100% seat-of-the-pants writer. It isn't so much that I come up with a plot as that I know how the book begins (inciting incidence), then drop my characters into that and see what happens. Truly, I do get up every day not knowing what will happen next.

In the past, one publisher wanted a more detailed synopsis from me. What I found was, after I'd written the synopsis, I no longer wanted to write the book. Why? Because I already knew how it ended. So I wanted to move onto a new story that was still a mystery to me.

I'm an intuitive writer. I *feel* the story in my gut more than I *envision* it in my head.

Don't ever come to me for plotting advice. Like the man says in Shakespeare in Love when asked how it worked, "I don't know. It's a mystery."

Thisisme said...

Wow, this is actually great advice about characters. I tried once to "interview" my character - it didn't work and thus I threw that story away.

I am currently trying to write the backstory to a character and will have to try some of these ideas. Thanks for that!

I would love to win a copy of your book! :)

Megan Wilson

May the K9 Spy (and KC Frantzen) said...

Excellent and more of what I need as I continue to edit...

Keep 'em coming!!

Would love to win one of your books. I'm excited about the 4 of you working together on this, having more fun than a human being should be allowed to have... ;)

thanks!

may at maythek9spy dot com

Vince said...

Hi Robin:

I’m a character driven writer in the same way an Amish buggy is horse driven. Characters can demonstrate all the personality they want as long as we stay on the right road.

Have you ever fired a character who would not cooperate and gone back to central casting to hire a more appropriate character for the part?

Characters are members of ‘team novel’ and when they think they are bigger than the team, they always hurt the team.

Perhaps many writing problems lie not in our characters but in ourselves. Hamlet was driven by outside events and, by failing to take charge, ended his life in a sea of troubles. Is it not ironic that the ultimate pantser was created by the ultimate plotter?

I am the Saint Paul of plotting. I know my journey ends in Rome but…but…there are ancient writings that say Saint Paul went on to Spain to preach for the rest of this life. I feel like I will always be lost in the wilderness. : >


Vince

P.S. I really enjoyed all your radio appearances yesterday. The moderator was as good as any mainstream network personality. I may always remember Mary’s call to end the hour. She said she wanted her writing to speak more to the reader than she put into the words. Like scripture which reads with new insights each time it is read. I would have loved to have said that. A perfect ending to a wonderful hour. You all did yourselves and the romance genre proud. Congrats.

Mary Connealy said...

THANK YOU ROBIN!!!!!!!!!

For giving me permission to be a PANSTER!!!!!!!!

(seriously, I'm inventing a new word for that--intuitive writer is good but too long--I regret any reference to myself and PANTS)

Barbara Haropolous said...

Hi Robin, great article! I'm going to give that first-person bio a try, I always have a hard time doing character bios.

Robin Lee Hatcher said...

Vince, I don't recall ever "firing" a character. By the time I begin writing, I'm invested in finding out what happens to them and where they take me.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Welcome, Robin.

I remember Robin (speaking over her head here) from Colorado Romance Writers. Chris Pacheco introduced you at a CRW conference.

It's a HUUUGE kick to have you here again to share your knowledge base.

Thank you!!! Thank you!!!

Courtney Faith said...

That is such a good idea--writing a character's biography!

Clp1777(at)aol(dot)com

Missy Tippens said...

Great post, Robin! Thanks so much for sharing today.

You know, on my book A House Full of Hope, I remember having a huge breakthrough on the story when I worked on the hero's dad--and figured out his goals and motivation. (I should have done it before starting the book!) So those secondary characters really do make a difference. We can't shortchange them.

Missy Tippens said...

Robin, Mary, Debbie and Margaret, all of you did a great job yesterday! I really enjoyed listening to the interview.

Sue W said...

Over the years I have read many of your books and the characters are always what draws me to another title by you. I've also listened to some audio versions and in this format, good characterization really stands out, making the stories flow. Pure entertainmnet.

Mary Connealy said...

Vince I'm with Robin about 'firing' a character but I do sometimes feel like a ways into the book I finally get to the BOTTOM of her/him they become more fleshed out, more a true character that I know well enough that how they act is an extension of the story.

Myra Johnson said...

Robin said: "Every day I get up hoping to find what happens next."

EXACTLY! I'm surprised every day by what my characters tell me and where their actions and reactions take the story.

And I absolutely cannot write a synopsis without writing a hefty portion of the book first. Really, the ONLY time I ever wish I wrote differently is when it comes time to put a proposal together for a new book that I haven't written yet but want to give my agent the best chance of selling.

Thank goodness Natasha understands how pantsers work!!!

Helen Gray said...

I came by last night to thank Robin for her insights and get the coffee pot ready. But Blogger ate me about A DOZEN TIMES. I finally gave up.

So here's a fresh pot of coffee.

And THANKS FOR THE INSIGHTS.

Now we'll see if Blogger posts this or eats me.

Helen

Helen Gray said...

Woo hoo!!

Took about 20 tries, but I finally got it to post.

This old dinosaur is claiming a high five!

Janet Dean said...

Robin, thanks for clarifying. I'm always impressed and in awe of Seat of the Pansters! If I didn't have a sense of the story, I wouldn't be able to sleep at night. Maybe I'm too controlling to leave the story in the characters' hands.

Not to bug you, but where do you get your inciting incidents? Just out of the blue? Or as I prefer to think, from God? Or does some tidbit you hear or read trigger an incident?

Janet

Debby Giusti said...

Robin,
How special to have you with us in Seekerville today. You mentioned writing your character's autobiography. What a great tip, which also sounds like a lot of fun!

I plan to get to know my next hero this weekend and learn what he's been doing for the last thirty years. Thanks!

Barbara Thompson said...

Enjoyed your post. I love your books. Thank you for the opportunity to participate in your giveaway.
Barbara Thompson
barbmaci61(at)yahoo(dot)com

Mary Connealy said...

HELEN WAY TO STICK WITH IT, GIRL!!!

kaybee said...

I have enjoyed your work for years. Would love to be put in the drawing!
Kathy Bailey

Cindy W. said...

My heart isn't in my post tonight but I would love to be entered to win Robin's book.

I would like to ask for prayers from anyone willing to offer them. Wednesday our precious baby who happened to be a 12 year old poodle, had surgery and when we brought him home, he went to his favorite room and within a little more than an hour he passed away. We expected to bring him home to recuperate, not leave us. I discovered him not breathing. The Vet said he believes his heart just gave out. I've cried more in the last couple of days then I have my whole lifetime I think. I'm really concerned about my 85 year old mother as she babysat him every day. I have told her we will get another poodle as soon as we can find a black miniature poodle puppy. She knows, but she's hurting really bad and told me today no one can fill the void he left.

I'm sorry to take up this post but I know there are so many wonderful people who stop by here and I would really appreciate any prayers you all could offer up for my mom, my husband and myself. It's hard to come into the house and not be greeted enthusiastically.

Blessings,
Cindy W.

countrybear52 AT yahoo DOT com

Tina Radcliffe said...

OH, Cindy! Giving you a huge hug.

Our pets are so dear to us. They give to us unconditionally.

Praying dear. XXXX

Missy Tippens said...

Oh, Cindy, I'm so very sorry. I totally understand that pain of losing a pet. And what a terrible shock for you. I'll pray for all of you.

Glynna Kaye said...

Cindy--I'm so sorry to hear of unexpected death of your precious pup. I know what it's like to lose a canine friend and will be praying for your and your family.

Mary Hicks said...

Thanks for a wonderful post! I love it when the characters come to life. Those are the books you hate to see the last page coming up. :-)

kam110476 said...

Gosh Cindy, my heart is aching for you and your family. Y'all will most definitely be in my thoughts and prayers. I know my dog is my child--4 legged child, but a child none the less--and when I lose her my heart will be breaking. So I can only imagine what you're going through right now.

Robin thank you so much for your post. I think I'll be trying your suggestion of a first person autobiography to really "meet" my characters. In fact I'm getting really excited about getting right on top of that tonight! Since I've really started reading and looking at Christian fiction Heart of Gold has been one of the books at the top of my TBR list! Would love an oppurtunity to win a copy. God bless!
kam110476 (at) gmail (dot) com

Pam Hillman said...

Every character is the star in their own eyes, just like every child is the star of the play to their parents and grandparents in the audience.

And I love the cover of Beloved! Beautiful!

Pam Hillman said...

Aw, Cindy, hugs, lady!

Walt Mussell said...

I love the stream-of-consciousness idea. I've heard about interviewing your characters but writing their life stories is a wonderful variation on that.

Mary Connealy said...

Cindy, God bless you and your mom. I'm so sorry.

Robin Lee Hatcher said...

Janet, sorry for the delay in answering. I was out for a number of hours tonight.

The ideas for my inciting incidents just come to me. I can't say there is any pattern for how or where they come from. A dream. A bit of dialogue. An overheard conversation in a restaurant. Or a lesson God has taught me.

Robin Lee Hatcher said...

Cindy W., so very sorry for the loss of your dog. Praying for your comfort.

Mary Preston said...

It doesn't ring true if the characters behave out of character, so to speak. The reason must be a valid one, for them.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Oh, Cindy.

My heart is just breaking for you. When we lost Maddie three months ago, I was heartbroken. Big, mean old me was just broken-hearted over saying goodbye to my six-year-old pretty red girl. The last thing I expected when I took her to our vet was that she had cancer... and days to live.

Someone came to see me about one of Libby's puppies that week. Four weeks later when she came back to look at the now busy, fun, walking and tumbling pups, I had no memory of meeting her. Tiredness and grief are a wicked pair.

We laugh about it now, but even just writing about it makes me sad.

I looked around for another red retriever. And I prayed and prayed... A breeder in Allegany County, where I set a series of books contacted me because she was expecting two litters.

And then I realized I was being dumb. Another red retriever (and I love them) wouldn't be Maddie, it would be a sweet replacement. And God had sent me ten healthy black doodles... We ended up keeping one of Libby's pups, a boy. (Libby is our chocolate brown Standard Poodle, one of the best dogs I've ever known). We named him "Jeter" and he is a chronic joy. Really truly, that helped so much.

I tell folks that if you really love dogs, you should have two. James Herriot (All Creatures Great and Small, etc.) always talked about that and I agree. A dog's love is a temporary thing, and the suddenness of your dog's passing is wicked hard.

I'm praying for you. I know exactly where you're at, and it just (yes I'm going to say it) sucks pond water.

Hugs to you. And if you want chocolate or coffee or more hugs you just e-mail me.

They're yours for the asking.

Connie Almony said...

Thanks for this, Robin. Characters are the utmost importance to me as a reader, so I try to make them important as a writer. I can read a good story once and be done. But if it has good characters I read it again and again. Can't get those kind of books at the library. I need to possess them so I can spend time with the characters one more time.
I journal as my characters when I don't get enough feel for them in a scene. It works every time!!!

MaryAnn Diorio, PhD, DMin, MFA said...

Thanks, Robin, for your outstanding post. I especially appreciated what you wrote about having "empathy" for one's characters.


Blessings,

MaryAnn

Janet Dean said...

Cindy W, so sorry about the loss of your precious dog. I know you gave him a wonderful life surrounded by so much love. Praying for you, your husband and mother.

Janet

Myra Johnson said...

Cindy, I am so with you in this time of grief. It was only a few weeks ago that we had to say goodbye to our precious Gracie, and I am still hurting. Special pets become so much a part of our lives and hearts. Praying comfort for you and your family.

Cindy W. said...

Thank you all for all your prayers and condolences. It has been a rough couple of days for us, especially my mom. I continue to shed more and more tears. I've spent most of today calling people looking for a poodle puppy. Our vet referred us to one person who sent me to two other breeders who are going to make contacts with their breeder friends and our little Peppi's groomer has feelers out as well. We pray to find a puppy soon as my 85 year old mom is having a really difficult time.

May you all be blessed today.

Blessings,
Cindy W.

Julie Lessman said...

Oh, Cindy, I just now found out about your little poodle and I am so very sorry because I know how hard it is to lose a pet who's a member of the family -- it's happened to us twice now.

My prayers are with you, especially for the perfect poodle puppy for your family!

Hugs,
Julie

bonton said...

Such an interesting blog! Thanks for the giveaway opportunity!