with guest Lisa Carter
“This will look great in Alison’s house,” I told my daughter last fall after returning from a Christmas shopping expedition.
“You know, Alison in Carolina Reckoning.”
My daughter rolled her eyes because once again I’d gone into crazy writer mode. “We do not add pretend people to the Christmas list, Mom.”
But I had—I’d bought a Christmas gift for a fictional character. Only to realize I just bought a gift for a FICTIONAL character . . .
How does this happen?
It happens when writers create realistic, wholly human characters full of tragic flaws, sublime potential, and compelling contradictions. These characters leap out of our imaginations, off the page, and into the hearts of readers.
Wrapping and layering the total package, here’s how I create such Christmas List Characters—
1. The Shiny Wrapping Paper—Sprinkle all five senses throughout the hero’s first impression of the heroine and vice versa. I make it a game to see how many of the senses I can utilize in each scene.
Here’s tribal policeman Adam Silverhorn’s first impression of cultural anthropologist,
Erin Dawson, from Beneath a Navajo Moon—
He inspected every inch of her, the cop in him taking mental notes.
The lush, luminous glow of women he remembered from his days at Fort Bragg. Women who’d spent their lives in the moisture-rich South, not the bone dry places the women of his tribe inhabited on the Rez of the Navajo Nation.
But nothing to write home about.
He stiffened as those green eyes of hers examined him just as intently.
And found him wanting?
Perhaps his carefully wrought reputation preceded him.
And this feisty, Southern heroine’s take on him—
Erin’s toes curled at the memory of the policeman she’d met a week ago. Or, sort of met.
Tall and broad-shouldered. Those high-planed cheekbones. The color of his skin the way she preferred her coffee.
Guess whose impression is bound to change? And won’t it be fun watching that happen?
2. The Shake-the-Box Guessing Game—Did you catch the reference to Adam’s “carefully wrought reputation”? Ignite curiosity as you reveal characters. Entice the reader to turn the page. And the next page. And the next.
Erin swung around, the butter knife raised and glistening red.
Good-looking-what’s-his-name retreated a step. His eyes hopscotched from the knife in her hand to her face.
What’s-his-name grinned. “Death by strawberry jam.”
He cocked an eye at the knife in her hand. “What a way to go.”
3. The Anticipation Mounts—Unfold the tissue paper of characterization layer by layer.
Reader empathy can be accomplished in 5 ways:
a. Make them likeable.
Adam gave her a smug smile. “Á la mode all the way, babe.”
Erin rolled her eyes. “Stop calling me that.”
He grinned, unrepentant. “Ice cream makes everything better or hadn’t you noticed?”
“I thought that was chocolate.”
His eyes crinkled at the corners. “Not if you’re a guy.”
b. Equip them with a unique skill set.
Tulley stared at her. “You speak Japanese?”
Adam faced the angry crowd. “Of course she does. Probably speaks six or seven other languages, too.”
Erin glared at him. “Only four. It’s my sister who speaks seven languages. I’m always the disappointment, remember?”
c. Make them funny.
“You ride rodeo?”
Erin nudged her head at his belt buckle that read, Navajo Nation Rodeo Cowboys Association.
She put a hand to her face as if to shield her eyes. “Kind of blinding.”
Adam grinned. “The small print reads, Bull Riding Champion.”
“No surprise you’d be drawn to the bull, Silverhorn.”
d. Make the reader worry by placing them in jeopardy.
“Hang in there.” Adam returned fire keeping the gang pinned inside the hogan.
Despite the popping retorts of the gunfight, a strange sense of silence ran through his head.
e. Reveal character vulnerabilities. Erin has some insecurities. Don’t we all?
Good-looking didn’t begin to describe the vision that had walked in the Cultural Center.
Not that a man like that would ever give her a second glance.
Dad always said a person needed three things to make a happy life. Something to look forward to. Good work to do. And the third?
Erin frowned. The third—someone to love . . .
4. The Ooh-Ah Moments—Let the romantic tension between your hero and heroine sparkle.
“What are you doing here?” Adam hissed between two busted lips.
“I’m rescuing you.”
“Looks to me like you got us boxed in four guns to one.”
Erin sniffed. “No gratitude left in the world, is there?”
He made a grab for the gun. “Give me that thing.”
She jerked free. “How about ‘Thank you, Erin, for saving my life’?”
“Thanks, Erin.” Adam planted a rough kiss on her mouth. “Ow.” Wincing, he put a finger to his busted lip.
Erin licked her lips. Peppermint. “You’re welcome.”5. The Just-What-I-Always-Wanted Payoff—Plan for an ever-deepening emotional and spiritual transformation. Touch readers’ hearts, minds, and souls with a character’s struggle to be more than they are now. Don’t neglect the significance of the eternal.
And without revealing the ending—
“That’s always been the crux of my problem with your Savior, Erin Dawson. It’s an all-or-nothing proposition.”
He laughed again, this time the sound without mirth. “I don’t do surrender. Never have. Never will. I prefer to be the master of my own destiny.”
Erin’s eyes locked onto his. “And how’s that working out for you so far, Adam
So I no longer shop for characters because I’ve learned:
Buying a gift for fictional characters = Slightly psychotic.
Just ask my daughter.
On the other hand:
Pretend people so real you’re tempted to add them to the Christmas list
= Unforgettable characters.
In the spirit of Speedbo—Which characters from films or books are most memorable to you? What makes a character memorable?
Leave a comment to be entered into a giveaway of Carolina Reckoning, or Aloha Rose, or Beneath a Navajo Moon. Three winners will be chosen.
Author bio: Lisa Carter is the author of two romantic suspense novels, Carolina Reckoning and Beneath A Navajo Moon; and Aloha Rose, a contemporary romance in the Quilts of Love series. Under a Turquoise Sky releases August 2014. She and her husband have two daughters and make their home in North Carolina. Lisa has strong opinions about barbecue, ACC basketball, and the Cola Wars. When she isn't writing, Lisa enjoys traveling to romantic locales, quilting, and researching her next exotic adventure. www.lisacarterauthor.com
What happens when love and danger collide deep in the heart of the Navajo Nation? When cultural anthropologist Erin Dawson crosses paths with tribal policeman Adam Silverhorn, it’s hardly love at first sight. But when the two are suddenly thrust into a common quest to rout an insidious drug cartel—they must rely on each other for their survival. The danger mounts as Adam gives Erin a rare glimpse into Navajo life few outsiders ever see and into a crime ring that no one dares to imagine.
“Lisa Carter takes readers to a different world, one of poverty and struggle and one of majestic beauty as well. Don’t miss Beneath a Navajo Moon.” —Connie Mann, author of Angel Falls
“Against a backdrop of Navajo lore and cultural prejudice, two people find love while their worlds threaten to collapse. Lisa Carter has penned a romantic suspense that will keep the reader turning page after page.” —DiAnn Mills, author of Firewall