Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Secret of Writing Sympathetic Characters

Tosca Lee
by Tosca Lee

I don’t know about you, but almost every time I sit down to write, I think to myself, “I can’t do this.” Or worse: “I don’t want to do this.” Because it’s too hard. I’m too sleepy, stupid, uninspired, anxious, or distracted. The good news—great news, actually—is that when it comes to writing the sympathetic characters at the heart of a great story, you can bring all that stuff with you, and use it. In fact, in my opinion, you have to. Here’s why:

Stories ring with truth when they are cast with characters who are as multi-dimensional, complex—and therefore sympathetic (we are all the main character in our own personal story, after all)—as we are.

We love to cheer for protagonists we can identify with when we see that they are as flawed (hurting, broken, or fearful) as we are or struggling with some of the same challenges (acceptance, loss, addiction). Why? Because we can see ourselves in them. We see our own foibles, shortcomings, or desires in them… and then cheer for—and are inspired by—their success.

We even identify more with antagonists who have sympathetic qualities. (Though we may make them less sympathetic, perhaps, than our main characters, a conflicted antagonist makes for much a more complex story than a two-dimensional villain).


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From the first moment that editor friend Jeff Gerke (who had acquired my first two books, Demon: A Memoir and Havah: The Story of Eve) suggested I write the story of Judas, I was running fast and hard in the other direction. Entering the mind of the most vilified man in religious history was scarier, less savory and more alien to me than writing the plight of a fallen angel or the first woman on earth.

The thing that finally got me was the idea of slipping into the first-person skin of the only disciple Jesus called friend, of sitting down at the side of this mysterious healer, teacher and uncontrollable maverick called Jesus. As a longtime online role-player (I often say that everything I know about characterization I learned from my endless hours of role-playing), I wanted to see him for myself, to experience him in this way. And then something crazy happened.

About halfway in, while writing about Judas’ longing for acceptance, anxiety over outcomes and stymie at the agenda of God, I realized I was no longer writing his story, but my own.

I was the one who felt if others really knew me, they would not love me. I was the one who wanted God to hurry up and act in the ways I thought God should. I was the one who took despair into my own hands in the unhealthiest of ways.

I brought every disappointment, moment of darkest despair—and every hope, too—with me to those pages. A year later, Iscariot won ECPA book of the year in fiction.


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I write all of my novels with the working assumption that we aren’t that different. That many of the same fears, insecurities, hopes and dreams drive us, regardless of epoch. That we are all basically the same. It hurts us to see people suffer even as we struggle in our own desire for more. We have morals that drive us, even if they’re at times questionable. We love, if messily. We err in ways that sense to us at the time.

So how do we make our characters—including even crusty or surly protagonists—sympathetic? We get real, and vulnerable.

Try this: write out a list of your top five fears. No one will read it, share it with no one—this is Secret Stuff. Just write them out.

Next, write a list of your top five hopes.

How can you imbue your primary and secondary characters with at least one from each list? How do these relate to that character’s story goal?

If your main character’s biggest fear is not getting picked for a job or failing in a relationship, dig deeper. What’s behind that fear? Rejection? A lack of love? Get to that base-level fear (or hope—of love, redemption, or the realization of a dream) that we can all identify with.

Expert move: Do the exact same for your antagonist. Doing so will create a more complex conflict—in your story, and in your reader.

Now try this: speed write your answers to the following prompts:

·         Three things you wish you were stronger or better at…
·         A quality you wish you had…
·         A question that haunts you…
·         The thing that you most want in life…
·         The times you feel most misunderstood…
·         The first time you ever experienced betrayal…
·         Three of your quirks…
·         Your earliest memory of joy…
·         The thing that brings you most pleasure in life…
·         A time you experienced a triumph…
·         One thing that always moves you to action…

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How can you share some of these triggers, quirks, hopes or hurts with your main character? How can you give him or her the quality you wish you had? Write one of them into a scene.

Do the same for your antagonist.

I remember my 14 year-old step-son asking me about King Solomon while I was writing The Legend of Sheba. “So is he a good guy or a bad guy?” he asked. “Both,” I said, which is true of the dichotomous wisest man in the world who made some really stupid decisions. And it’s true of all of us, too; we’re not just one thing or the other, good or bad. We’re both. And your characters need to be, too.

Try this: Speed write responses to the following prompts:

·         A time you showed grace to another…
·         A time you showed grace to yourself…
·         The ugliest thought you’ve had about another…
·         The ugliest thought you’ve had about yourself…
·         A time you acted directly opposite your best intentions…
·         A time you chose to act in a way you felt was right—at great cost to yourself…
·         A time you thought you were doing the right thing, but realized later it was (or seemed to be) a mistake…
·         Why the item above seemed like the right thing to do in those circumstances…
·         A beautiful action you took that no one has ever known about…

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Now try this: Drawing from the list above, create dichotomies in your characters. Show your protagonist and your antagonist thinking charitable and ugly thoughts, making both good and bad, noble and ignoble decisions on their journey through your story. (But let the noble win with your protagonist.)

Do the same for your secondary characters.

By sharing the truth of our own fears, triumphs, hopes, failures and experiences—and our own vacillation between noble and ignoble actions—we accomplish several things:

·         We are no longer attempting to manipulate the emotions of the reader, but merely reminding them of emotions already inside them—because we are all the same.
·         The story is no longer about just how a character achieves their goal or why—which is the plot—but about the emotional stake we have in that success.
·         The story has become personal.

I want to give a big shout out of love to you who are reading this post today. Blessings on you—not just for taking on the worthy endeavor of writing, but simply for who you are. Too often we come to the page with a half measure of courage, worried about our adequacy. You are enough. And when it comes to writing unforgettable characters, whatever you are feeling and wherever you are in life is perfect for the task before you, right now.

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Who are some of your favorite characters in fiction? What made them unforgettable—and what about them did you also see in yourself?

Leave a comment to get your name in a drawing for your choice of a signed hardback copy of Sheba, hardback copy of Iscariot, paperback copy of Havah or paperback copy of Demon. Two Winners today!

Tosca Lee is the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of Demon: A Memoir, Havah: The Story of Eve, Iscariot, The Legend of Sheba, and the Books of Mortals series with New York Times bestselling author Ted Dekker. Her highly-anticipated new thriller, The Progeny, releases May 2016. To learn more about Tosca, please visit her website: www.toscalee.com.

Keep up with Tosca’s latest releases, adventures and midnight musings and receive three unpublished chapters from the original manuscripts of Iscariot and Havah: The Story of Eve: http://toscalee.us6.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=bcb8ae4f788e0b4eb1c054b58&id=2cb691f28d
Did you know Tosca has a newsletter just for writers? Click the link above to sign up for dispatches From the Asylum.
Follow Tosca on Facebook: www.facebook.com/authortoscalee

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The Progency
Emily Jacobs is the descendant of a serial killer. Now, she’s become the hunted.

She’s on a quest that will take her to the secret underground of Europe and the inner circles of three ancient orders—one determined to kill her, one devoted to keeping her alive, and one she must ultimately save.

Filled with adrenaline, romance, and reversals, The Progeny is the present-day saga of a 400-year-old war between the uncanny descendants of “Blood Countess” Elizabeth Bathory, the most prolific female serial killer of all time, and a secret society dedicated to erasing every one of her descendants. A story about the search for self filled with centuries-old intrigues against the backdrop of atrocity and hope.

Pre-order on Amazon: http://bit.ly/PreOrderTheProgeny
The Progeny on Goodreads: http://bit.ly/TheProgeny


Marianne Barkman said...

Right now I have started Janet Deans novel, THE BOUNTY HUNTER'S REDEMOTION, and though I am only a few pages into it, I know Carly Ridchards will be a favorite. I may not be an abused wife, but I want to hold onto what's mine!
Then there is Julie Lessman's Lacey in ISLE OF HOPE and I could go one.
Glad to have you, Tosca. I'll be back later to read more in depth.

Walt Mussell said...

Tosca, great to see you here. In my journey as a writer, I can't think of any writer I was more nervous about meeting than you. I absolutely love, love, love your work

I will try these prompts in the morning when I have fresh coffee in me and my brain isn't too bleary.

Walt Mussell said...

And I promise to bring lots of bacon with the coffee!

Tosca said...

Thank you, Marianne. :) And Walt! Thank you for your kind words--you never seemed nervous at all. (Enjoy that bacon!)

Terri said...

Tosca, I was so happy to see today's post was by you! I met you when you and Ted Dekker were in OKC, our ACFW chapter had dinner with you. All I can say about this article is wow, wow, wow!

I can't wait to dive in and place some of my fears and emotions on my characters. Let's just hope they don't turn out too strange. LOL.

Seriously, I love the concept and I'm eager to try it out. I'm looking forward to the release of The Progeny.

Jackie said...

Hi Tosca,

Welcome to Seekerville. Thanks for sharing such great stuff with us. I've begun to edit, and your post will help tremendously. Definitely a keeper!

I look forward to The Progeny. It also sounds like a book both of my sons would enjoy too.

Thanks again and have a great day!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Tosca, thanks so much for hanging out with us in Seekerville! Walt made us clean the place up, I've been dusting for days! :)

Lovely words and advice, and I didn't know you had kids, so that was a surprise, too!

I brought fresh coffee, and some homemade bagels, they are to die for. Cream cheese, lox and toppings are to the left.... This New Yorker knows how to throw a great breakfast party!

Glynna Kaye said...

Good morning, Tosca--and welcome to Seekerville! This post is definitely a "keeper" -- top-notch prompts to delve deeper into a character's GMC to make them more sympathetic and believable to readers--and to us as writers. Thank you!

The Artist Librarian said...

Oh, I have too many favorite characters, but a character I saw myself in was definitely Meg Murry from Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time (link to 1st chapter). I first read the book in middle school and I can't tell you how many times I read it as a teen. I totally felt like Meg was me. We were both the oldest, had glasses, a precocious baby brother ... the teenage angst, the slight self-loathing (not quite the right word), LOL.

And the most stereotyped-but-not opening:

In her attic bedroom Margaret Murry, wrapped in an old patchwork quilt, sat on the foot of her bed and watched the trees tossing in the frenzied lashing of the wind. Behind the trees clouds scudded frantically across the sky. Every few moments the moon ripped through them, creating wraithlike shadows that raced along the ground.
The house shook.
Wrapped in her quilt, Meg shook.
She wasn't usually afraid of weather.--It's not just the weather, she thought.--It's the weather on top of everything else. On top of me. On top of Meg Murry doing everything wrong.
School. School was all wrong. She'd been dropped down to the lowest section in her grade. That morning one of her teachers had said crossly, 'Really, Meg, I don't understand how a childwith parents as brilliant as yours are supposed to be can be such a poor student. If you don't manage to do a little better you'll have to stay back next year.' ..."

Leslie McKee said...


Thanks for stopping by! What an informative post. I love the prompts to help increase the realism of the characters.

"The Progeny" sounds like a great book!


Jill Weatherholt said...

Welcome to Seekerville, Tosca. Thank you for sharing these prompts. One of my most enjoyable stages in the writing process is getting inside my character's heads.
That's great your friends with Jeff, I've learned a lot from his Writer's Digest articles.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Jen, I think you touched on a wonderful and valuable point. When we see ourselves in a character, we bond.

When their fears or frailties reflect ours, we become attached. And once we've become invested in the character, we want to read the book!

So for me, whiny heroines don't work. I don't want to hear how they're afraid, I don't want to listen to them fuss at their children like a helicopter parent, I don't care that they were traumatized... if they're living in the past in fear.

But if they're afraid, and sucking it up: I'm in!

If they're worried about their children secretly, but outwardly encouraging them (Keli Gwyn and me!!!)... I'm invested!

If they've been traumatized, but know that with God all things are possible (Harriet Tubman types, my faves!!!!) then I'm grabbed. So part of why we like or don't like a book is because we see ourselves in the character's actions. And your example was perfect! Meg Murry and that scene resonate with kids, but even with adults, years later.

Perfect choice for the example!

Mary Connealy said...

Tosca I loved this line: The story is no longer about just how a character achieves their goal or why—which is the plot—but about the emotional stake we have in that success.

Getting readers to HAVE AN EMOTIONAL STAKE is the grabber. Now they care, they're invested, they are ROOTING for your character! And when that happens YOU'VE GOT 'EM!!! :)

Mary Connealy said...

Favorite characters in books.

Maybe Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird.
I know Atticus is who people would normally choose, but that whole book works because it's seen through the eyes of an innocent child. And the brilliance of it is how Scout so often doesn't understand what she's seeing but the READER knows exactly what's going on and feels every bit of it.

Tosca said...

Hi Terri! That was such a wonderful time in OKC! (Thunder Up!) Weirdly, it seems like the weirder (or even more neurotic) characters get... the more familiar they feel. Lol

Great to "see" you again, Terri!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Mary, Scout's a great example. So is Christy, from "Christy"....

And my fave is Hush McGillen from "Sweet Hush" by Deb Smith.

And Betsy from "Understood Betsy", from childhood. But Scout really stays with folks, I'd vote for her over Atticus because she's like us... wondering and seeking.

Tosca said...

Thank you Jackie! It's great to be here!

Tosca said...

Well the place looks--and smells--tremendous (Walt must have remembered that I have OCD 😳.) As for the kids... I have four new bonus kids as of just over two weeks from now--I'm marrying a single father on the 22!) Yayyy!!!

Tosca said...

Thank you and my pleasure, Glynna!

Cindy Regnier said...

This is exactly why writing fiction can be so hard. It is not simply creating a character but baring the writer's own soul. Thank you Tosca - great process to follow.

Tosca said...

Love L'Engle. And yup, me too--oldest, check. Glasses, check. Teen angst, check...

Janet Ferguson said...

Tosca, So excited to see you at Seekerville! My book club and I loved Havah. It really brought Eve to life. I just worked through your wonderful prompts and look forward to using them as I struggle to get published myself. My all time favorite character was Hadassah in the Mark of the Lion Series, I think. Hard to pick just one, but she always stands out because she was just so good despite all the terrible things she went through. I'd love to be in the drawing. Blessings with your writing!

Loraine Nunley said...

Great advice Tosca. I am printing this post so that I can apply it to my WIP.

I agree with Ruth, I don't like whiny characters. I love the ones that will push through their circumstances and try to make things better. That might be because my mom always told me to do that.

Please put me in the drawing as well. Thanks!

Tosca said...

Hi, Cindy--I feel absolutely naked admitting how much of my own deep seeded fears (and hopes, and dreams) I've included in my own stuff. (Wait a second, no wonder my counselor has all my books...???)

Janet--thank you for reading Havah in your book club. I love, love book clubs, and appreciate every time that a club reads one of mine. (Tell me next time and I'll join via Skype!)

Mary and Ruth--Scout might be one of the all-time greatest examples of an unforgettable sympathetic character (and most beloved).

Loraine, I'm with you and Ruth on the whiny characters. :D

Mary--I learned about rooting for a character's success the hard way (well, several times), but the most memorable was in the first version of a story that went out to an editor years ago who read it and said of the main POV character: "I cheer for his failure." Ouch. Point taken.

Myra Johnson said...

Welcome, Tosca! Thank you for offering your insights in this thought-provoking post! My first published book featured a heroine that about half the readers completely related to and the other half wanted to slap around until she got her head on straight. And yes, even though I didn't have a great deal in common with this character's life experiences, her emotions and reactions came from someplace deep inside me. In some ways, that's a little scary! (Because I expect there are more than a few people around who probably want to slap some sense into me!)

Myra Johnson said...

MARY and TOSCA, have you read Go Set a Watchman? Just finished it over the holidays. An interesting take on Scout as an adult and her relationship with her father and the town she grew up in.

Walt Mussell said...

Tosca, Congrats on your upcoming nuptials. I know you put it either in your newsletter or on FB, but the story of how your intended proposed is very nice.

I worked on the prompts and there are some things that I just don't remember. I don't remember my first betrayal. I stopped at two quirks (but they're huge). And, I could remember things others have done. However, I have trouble thinking of any of my own actions as noble.

Mary Connealy said...

Janet, Hadassah was so perfect and so powerful. And, it's a different post, but Francine Rivers just created that whole world of ancient Rome to make it come alive. A brilliant job.

Mary Connealy said...

Myra I haven't read Go Set a Watchman. I should. I've heard there are parts that paint Atticus as racist and I just don't want that in my head.

But I'm probably over analyzing and should just enjoy the book for itself.

Missy Tippens said...

Welcome, Tosca! This was such a helpful post. It gave me a lot to think about in deepening my characters. I'll be making those lists of my own answers to your questions and using them.

I think your new book, The Progeny, sounds like an amazing story!

Mary Connealy said...

I'm struggling with characters I love because so many are rushing through my brain.

Great, enduring characters like Tom Sawyer and Sherlock Holmes and Mitch Rapp (author Vince Flynn's assassin who only kills BAD people)

That's one of those hidden dreams of mine to someday create a character who goes from book to book, growing and improving and struggling.

My very own Harry Bosch.

I just don't have the time, plus those guys are always solving mysteries and I find mysteries very hard to write, very complex.

Mary Connealy said...


Big changes coming in your life, girl!

Vince said...

Hi Tosca:

Wonderful post! It brings up a lot of questions to my mind.

First, "Tosca", if my Italian is correct, means 'a woman from Tuscany'. Do you have relations that go back to Tuscany?

The cover of your new book, "Progeny" looks like it has Venice in the background. Is that Venice? I could not find anything out about the book on Amazon. There was no 'look inside' feature up yet. Also, you mentioned three ancient orders. Is either one 'the illuminati' or the 'Knights Templar'? I have an interest in these two organizations.

Last, a question about writing about Judas. Would you consider it fair to give Judas a very good reason for betraying Jesus or would this make the book unpublishable?

For example, the sanhedrin has told Judas that if he does not betray Jesus they will prosecute his whole extended family (with false evidence) and have them executed by the Romans.

In addition the head of the Sanhedrin argues that since Jesus can work miracles and since he had no problem disappearing after driving the money changers from the temple, no harm could come to Jesus unless he wanted it to come.

"If you really believed in Jesus, you would have no problem betraying him as it could in no way harm him unless he wanted it to harm him but it would save your family."

As someone who has studied Judas, do you think such a story line could be accepted by Christian publishers? Could Judas be make too sympathetic? What if Judas committed suicide out of despair and loss of faith when Jesus does not save himself?

Please put my name in the drawing for a copy of your "Iscariot" book. I'm very interested in seeing how you dealt with this theme. It's a challenge worthy of Nietzsche.


P.S. Ruth's cats lick her cat dish so clean that you'd think it was just waxed! I have no objections to placing my name in the cat dish. : )

Missy Tippens said...

Tosca, congrats on your upcoming marriage! How exciting!

Missy Tippens said...

Ruthy, I loved Sweet Hush. :)

Vince said...

Hi Tosca:

You're getting married! Congratulations. Please tell me his name is not 'Mario' like in the opera?

Sharee Stover said...

Tosca, thank you for this post! It was like a writer's class I can do in my yoga pants :) loved the material! Have to say, I'm a huge fan of your books (Iscariot was my favorite…so far) and have enjoyed meeting you on a couple of occasions. And since you're also a Nebraskian (is that a word?) that's extra cool! Can I get an amen, Mary Connealy?! :)
My most favorite character is Quan from Randy Alcorn’s book, Safely Home. Quan is everything I see in a strong, fearless Christian. He faces adversity and persecution with a heart not of revenge but of love. It’s amazing and convicting. I wish I could see more of myself in him but I would still be quaking in my shoes at the kind of things he faces. Still, it gives me a visual for how I can respond to situations.
I think this is a huge point for me to keep in mind with writing “We are no longer attempting to manipulate the emotions of the reader, but merely reminding them of emotions already inside them—because we are all the same.” I am still learning to write in a way that doesn’t drag the reader through the story but allows them to make the journey.
Congratulations on your upcoming wedding! I can’t wait to dive into The Progeny and Sheba.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Wow, the Progeny looks amazing.

I smell a movie there.

Myra Johnson said...

MARY, yes, there are some racist issues with Atticus in Go Set a Watchman, but I thought Harper Lee handled them realistically and Atticus didn't come off as a terrible person. It's really Scout's journey as she comes to grips with her childhood and how the era has changed her town and the people she thought she knew so well.

Caryl Kane said...

HELLO TOSCA! Happy New Year! Blessings to you and Bryan! Have you said "YES" to the dress?

Please put me in for the drawing....

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Vince, I didn't get out the cat dish for Tosca. Although I think I will, anyone brave enough (I raised 4 farm boys and 2 girls, and I'm totally kinda grinning about this whole thing... ) to marry into 5 men is one gutsy woman! Even Ree Drummond did it step by step, so Tosca, this is amazing and wonderful! Those boys will be blessed!

I've found that readers identify with tortured heroes that rise up strong, but weigh heavy with guilt.

I'm not sure why that is, perhaps because that's not the norm?

I don't know. But I know it's fun creating them on all sides of the financial spectrum and societal profile, because it keeps me fresh, like we were saying last weekend.

Sometimes we need to dip our toes into different waters. Old waters, new waters, radically different set-ups. Keeps the rust at bay.

Mary Connealy said...

A writer's class I can do in my yoga pants! SHAREE! Now you're talking.

Tina, I think we should change the Seekerville slogan to that.

Mary Connealy said...

Oh admit it Ruthy, you just like torturing heroes.

If readers like it FINE but that's now why you do it!!!!

Tina Radcliffe said...

There you go, she can write a book about her adventures or a blog like Ree.

Bringing up Tosca.

I am terrified for you. I raised three boys and a girl.

I have recently been released on parole.

Kimberly Duffy said...

I met you at Realm Makers (I was the pregnant one who loves Havah.) This is fabulous insight into your process of developing some of the most memorable characters I've read. Thanks so much for offering it. And thanks for being so kind and available. Meeting you was the highlight of the conference.

Tosca said...

Thank you for the many blessings--it will be a spectacular new life (already is) though it is indeed a big change: new husband, three boys still at home (14 and 11 year old twins), oldest daughter at school (20). I'm also gaining a dog (who is emotionally attached to my fiancé--and a cat that drools when you pet her. Weirdest thing I've ever seen. We're talking dripping drool.

Myra, I haven't read WATCHMAN yet--though I'm admittedly really behind on my reading. Really, really behind.

Walt, it was indeed a spectacular, awesome proposal for my shy farmer! For anyone who'd like to see pics, they're at: http://www.toscalee.com/photos/ (go to the Legend of Sheba signing). :)

Walt--you might ask someone close to you about those noble things. This is something I used to recommend as a strengths coach for Gallup as well when it comes to recognizing our own talents. For some reason, it can be hard to see the best in ourselves, but I find that those closest to us are very good at verbalizing those things we cannot (dare not?) see--and they sometimes have some surprising answers.

And yes, I'm a Nebraskan! My finance's farm is about an hour from Mary, actually!

Tosca said...

Missy--thank you re: The Progeny!

Vince... okay, man, you're causing me to drink deep of my coffee here. The short answer re: Judas is that I do think it's fair to give him a solid reason for doing what he did. Characters--in fiction and in life--must be and are properly motivated (even if those motivations are not great). Whether it's a "good" reason or not depends on what side of history and other dichotomies you're standing on. There was a lot of tension happening in first Century Jerusalem, not just between Jews and Romans, but between the Sanhedrin, the everyman of Israel, the various schools, the Pharisees, and Rome. And many issues of preserving Israel's relative religious freedom (and the Sanhedrin's power) under Rome. All of which come into play in intricate ways beyond our cursory modern reading of the text. So is your scenario possible? Sure. Would the book be publishable? That depends on several factors including the publisher. I have always personally felt that there was some reasoning that went on in Judas' head to motivate his decision beyond just the silver. How does one deliver (the Greek word that is commonly translated "betray") someone he has followed and seen perform miracles to death? There's something going on there.

And alas, no ties to Tuscany. My father, who wanted to be a tenor at one time, was in love with Maria Callas. They had a torrid affair (that she doesn't know about) and when I turned out not to be a David (surprise!), he named me Tosca. Luckily, my finance's name is Bryan. :D

Tosca said...

Missy, thank you and Tina, the movie thing is in talks, though much depends on how The Progeny does (everyone please pick up a copy! :D)

Caryl--Yes! I said yes to the dress! I'm sneaking off for a fitting in an hour and a half, in fact. :>

Ruth and Tina, this is definitely turning into an adventure. I have learned the value of crock pots. And that my so-called time management is apparently horrible. Adding five new people to my life at once is amazing and... where did my free time go? My disposable income? MY FRITOS??? I now understand why my mom hid her Russel Stover candies under the upholstered footstool.

And I'm wearing yoga pants, too. :D

Vince said...

Hi Tina:

You wrote:

"I raised three boys and a girl."

My mother raised three boys and a girl and the girl, the youngest, went career Army, married career Army, traveled all over the world, is great rifle shot and excellent hunter. If any little sister didn't need three big brothers to protect her, it was my sister.

How did your girl turn out?


Tosca said...

Hi, Kimberly! You are so kind, thank you. And Realm Makers was so fun to swing by--I'll be there longer this year. How is your new baby???

Tosca said...

Hi, Sharee! And yup, I think that's the thing--letting the reader take the journey with us. Whenever I stress out about trying to make sure they see and hear everything that I do (or about whether I see and hear it fully enough), I try to remind myself that they're half of the creative process. That they're entering into the adventure and creating it on their side along with us. We're really just setting up signposts along the road, and booby traps, and beautiful moments of smooth road... before more booby traps, and screaming at each one of them along the way.

Tina Radcliffe said...

My little girl is a professional ballet dancer, living in the big city. She is confident, wise and lovely.

Vince said...

Hi Tosca:

Your father had good taste. I was also in love with Maria Callas. (Adolescent crush). But you needed too much money to date her. Besides, I was also in love with Victoria de los Angeles.

Just think, you could have been named 'Mimi'.

Here's Maria singing one of my favorite arias:

'Si, mi chiamano Mimi'


Here's Victoria singing the same aria:


I know this is too much information unless you are into opera from the late 1950's to the early 1960's.


Jeanne T said...

TOSCA, I heard you talk about some of these aspects of creating great characters at ACFW a couple years ago. I love the questions you shared with us today. SO good! This post is definitely a cut and paste one for when I begin my next book. I love the reminder that we're aren't so very different from our characters, at least when it comes to the heart of a person (or character).

I'm planning on working through your prompts later today. Thank you so much for sharing how you create such amazing characters!

Vince said...

Hi Tina:

A ballet dancer!

I sold some condos to ballet dancers in the early 1980's. Did your girl ever dance for the Tulsa Ballet? I might have seen her! Any chance she was in the Nutcracker? Little ballerinas and little girl rodeo barrel riders are two of the cutest sights on earth!


P.S. Is there a ballet themed romance in the planning?

Tosca said...

Ah, Vince and Tina, ballet was my first love and what I meant to do--until I tore a groin and ran into some other human frailties. Ballerinas are truly superheroes.

Vince, thank you for the links--I will check those out! I grew up watching Callas' performances in black and white (required viewing on more than one occasion at my dad's house...)

Jeanne, so great to see you again--I hope the prompts help!

Walt Mussell said...

Tosca, I'm trying to imagine if I could ask my wife what my noble aspects are, if any. She has been with me since 1993 (married 1995), so I'm assuming there's some good she sees in me.

As for ballet, the last time I saw ballet was a live performance of Baryshnikov. He's amazing.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Vince, she was taught at Tulsa Ballet Theater, by Native American Ballerina Moscelyne Larkin and YES was as a child in MANY TBT productions including Nutcracker.

You can tell from Tosca's pictures that she has the grace of a ballerina.

(I on the other hand cannot chew gum and walk at the same time!)

Pam Hillman said...

Some of those questions make me cringe. Definitely something to think about! Digging deep is like probing for a splinter: it hurts. But then the healing comes, so it's worth it if we can get past the pain.

Regan Wood said...

good prompts. got me thinking about how to make my characters more believable.
when you can relate to the characters that really brings them out i think.

DebH said...

hoo boy... I am so going to copy/paste this post for future character development. The suggestions are awesome. I feel my creative muse warming up even as I read over them. THANKS!!!

I have no idea which book of yours I'd want to read first, can I just ask to be in the draw for ANY of them? They all look so good. I know you're another new author I'm going to glom onto for good reads.

I love Seekerville for that. (well, for a lot of other things too, but finding "new" authors is so cool)

Sandra Leesmith said...

Hi Tosca and welcome to Seekerville. Thank you so much for the wonderful tips on developing those characters. I love the prompts and imagine they must really work well. What a great idea.I will try this myself as I'm always open for deepening those characters.

Thanks again for joining us.

Janet Dean said...

Tosca, welcome and thank you for this fabulous post packed with wisdom! It's definitely a keeper that I will refer to as I develop characters. A huge hug for these words that bless me mightily:

Too often we come to the page with a half measure of courage, worried about our adequacy. You are enough. And when it comes to writing unforgettable characters, whatever you are feeling and wherever you are in life is perfect for the task before you, right now.

Do you spend a lot of time getting to know your characters before you write or do you bring them to life with your fingertips?

Congrats on your success and best wishes on your upcoming marriage!


Janet Dean said...

Vince, I've heard it said that Judas might have betrayed Jesus because he wanted an end to the Roman tyranny and thought he could force Jesus to begin his earthly kingdom. If a case could be made for that motive, then Judas didn't grasp Jesus purpose for coming. Judas was worldly and greedy. Perhaps he was hoping for a big lucrative job in the kingdom.


Walt Mussell said...

As far as drawings, I have every thing of yours signed except Sheba. (I have an e-copy of the book.) No need to place me a drawing.

Janet Dean said...

Tosca, the Seekers take great pride in our offspring and in particular each and every grand baby, but Tina's ballerina daughter is as close as I'll ever get to beauty and grace in suffering. Surely those toes are screaming or perhaps they're numb.


Mary Connealy said...

I loved the pictures of the proposal, Tosca. Wow, how romantic.

Janet Dean said...

Tosca, I'd add Scarlet O'Hara to the list of unforgettable characters. I don't see myself in her. Perhaps that's why she fascinates me. :-) She said and did things I never would, but she also did courageous things. Margaret Mitchell did a good job keeping her teetering on the edge of respectability, yet showing a softer conventional side. From what I've read about Mrs. Mitchell, she had a great deal of Scarlet in her.


Laura L. Smith said...

This is the best article I've read on character development! I'm in the midst of edits on a young adult novel and plan on applying so many of the details from my "writing prompts" Thank you!

Debby Giusti said...


Jeanne mentioned your workshop at ACFW. I was there as well, taking note of everything you said.

Excellent blog today. Thanks for packing it with so many ways to dig deep and develop authentic characters. As others have mentioned, I'm saving this for future review. Also plan to share it with the writing class I host at my church. Rest assured, I'll be singing your praises and promoting your books as I share your words of wisdom.

Thanks for being with us today. Love and hugs to you and hubby-to-be! May God bless you both.

Kimberly Duffy said...

Realm Makers was fun. And my baby (a boy) is sweet and squishy. He's well loved.

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

OOOH - this is excellent Tosca. Just excellent.
Will be working through these prompts today as I carve out 5 mins here and 5 there (all the writing/me time I have currently it seems)...

Thank you!

And many congrats on your work. Exciting to read a bit more about your journey!

Vince said...

Hi Janet:

One motive I don't believe Judas had was money. His thirty pieces of silver, which most likely would have been denarii, would amount to only 30 days pay for a solider.

The denarius was about the same size as our dime. In fact, some of our dimes were made to look like the Roman denarius.

I was taught in bible classes, by the nuns, that pride was the greatest sin. Pride is why Satan revolted since he wanted to be greater than God; Adam ate the apple because he wanted to be as knowledgeable as God; and Judas betrayed Jesus because he felt that Jesus was favoring other apostles over him.

Now that I think of it, maybe the motive was not pride. I wonder what Tosca gives as the motive! Well, I'll find out. I just put her "Iscariot", CD version, on hold at the Tulsa library. It seems the Tulsa Library has every one of Tosca's books.


Julie Lessman said...

WOW, Tosca, EXCELLENT post today, but then I would expect nothing less from all the accolades you've received!

I'm with Janet -- Scarlett O'Hara is without question, the most memorable character I have ever read, but then I met her at a very impressionable age (I was 12 when I was captured forever by GWTW), so 'nuff said. Unlike Janet, however, I DID see myself in her A LOT -- her aloofness, her strength of will, her resilience, her independence, even her manipulation.

Wonderful prompts, Tosca -- and I plan to give them a try.

Hugs to Marianne for the Lacey shout-out from Isle of Hope!


Vince said...

Hi Tosca:

I read in a writing book some time ago that it is not how many details we know about a character than makes for a well rounded character but it is rather found in creating a character that has the capacity to surprise us with his or her behavior which while being totally unexpected is still fully consistent with what is known about that character. The author maintained that this unpredictability is a characteristic that real people often show.

I also like Mary's advice that to make a character likeable, have a pet like them.

As for most memorable character, I'd have to pick Sherlock Holmes; however, this may be because I've read so many of his stories and because I can remember those stories much better than most fiction I've read.

Which gets to the question:

What makes a character more memorable:

1) His or her personality and quirks


2) the memorability of the stories in which the character appears.

Well, I guess this choice is just some more to think about.


DebH said...

I'm with Vince. Sherlock Holmes is one of my most memorable characters.

I'm also a bit of a sci-fi, fantasy kid, so my most memorable character from YA time was probably Lessa from Dragonriders of Pern.

Mary Connealy said...

I'll toss in here, in the Judas debate.

Honestly, don't we all betray Jesus?

And even more so those who don't believe betray Him.

To figure out WHY Judas did it is and interesting exercise and fun to debate, and of course Judas' betrayal led to Jesus crucifixion which seems like the greatest betrayal of all time. But in our own way we are all guilty of killing Jesus and when we try to make it more complicated than that, we stray from our own need to believe, to repent, to receive salvation.

Just Commonly said...

Hi Tosca! That is a very tough question you posed. There are quite so many. At a young age, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett left an impression of classic gentleman and lady-ish characters, Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind of strength and tenacity, Lucy in Chronicles of Narnia of simple love of a child is the truest form of love, and Sherlock Holmes as a character that demonstrated knowledge is not only in the books, but how you use what you read in the books. Then Max from Where the Wild Things Are are vivid too (even though it's just more of a picture book). Max and his wild imaginations kept me entertained, and in truth allowed me to appreciate my parents - I would never be sent to my room without supper!

So, thank you for reminding me all these wonderful characters from my childhood. They are still some of my favorites.

Thank you for the giveaway too. I have Iscariot, so please throw my name in the hat for any of the others. Thanks! Annie

Andie said...

Hi Tosca,
Every one of your characters have stayed with me long after I finished the book. I am so looking forward to this new book. Please enter me in the drawing. Xoxo Andie

tghuguenin said...

Hey, this is a great post. Pretty interesting that your experience with RPGs has helped you as an author. I had never thought of that before.

Barbara Scott said...

Thanks for the encouragement, Tosca! I thought I was the only one who felt that way when I sit down to write.

And I loved the questions/prompts you shared, although it takes a lot of self-honesty to answer them. Egad! I think I'd need a decade of counseling to muck around in those subconscious thoughts. I might even have to drop to my knees and repent all day...but it does add dimension to characters. :)

I'd love to read your latest book. Havah was outstanding.

Sandy Smith said...

Welcome, Tosca. All those phrases you wrote at the beginning about things you say when you sit down to write are exactly what I always think. I will try to remember to take that and put it into my characters.

I have already read Havah. I really enjoyed it. Please put me in for any of your other books.

Congratulations on your upcoming marriage.

Sandy Smith said...

Mary, I know a lot of people who say they don't want to read Go Set a Watchman for the same reason you did. I have read it, and while it doesn't portray Atticus in the way I would have expected from his role in Mockingbird, I can honestly say I am able to put that aside and not let it ruin To Kill a Mockingbird for me. The harder part for me is the fact that Watchman is not that well written and can't even begin to compare from a literary standpoint. But I would still recommend reading it.

Tosca said...

Pam--I think your splinter analogy is very apt. I find several of my fearful obsessions run through the course of my novels, and sometimes tapping into them makes me edgy and nervous, even if (that rare day) I'm not feeling them.

Deb H.--please glom on! :)

Regan--definitely more relatable. I think of this when it comes to movie characters, too. Even good old 007 became suddenly far more relatable in Skyfall when he started struggling with his own aging. And of all the James Bond movies in the last 20 years, that is my favorite for that reason.

Janet asked: "Do you spend a lot of time getting to know your characters before you write or do you bring them to life with your fingertips?" I get to know them at my fingertips with one caveat: I've usually carried their first line around in my head for weeks or years. I had Judas' first line in Iscariot stuck in my head three years before I started to write the story. The first line of the Progeny has been in my head for about five. I penned a page in old Eve's voice maybe five years before a publisher bought Demon and asked me what else I had, and I pulled it out of a drawer, and it became the prologue. So there's that weird thing.

Tosca said...

Tina--I, too, am a klutz. (Because life isn't choreographed??) I self-inflicted a black eye once. (Tosca walked into a door jamb without her contacts in.)

Laura--thank you!

Debby--thank you for coming to hear me at ACFW!

Vince--enjoy the Iscariot CDs! I think the voice actor did a very nice job (especially considering all the pronunciations). I have extensive author's notes in the back about my research.

Julie--thank you. I was just talking about Scarlett O'Hara while I was getting laced into my wedding dress for my fitting earlier today, LOL.

Tosca said...

It is extremely comforting to know I'm not the only one who sits down and blinks at the page and gets the urge to run away. (You do do that, too, right?) There's a kind of inherent stress in thinking, "Now I shall sit down to write." However, sitting through a boring meeting, I could scribble endlessly. Something about knowing (or even hoping) there will be an audience brings a kind of inherent stress (let's call it what it is: fear) to the page, which is why my first rule of writing is always "write like no one will ever read this."

My assistant (whom my readers know as Asylum Warden Cindy) left me a flowering plant once with a card in it that said simply "You are enough." I will never forget that.

Cindy works with writers for a living so she's very wise about this stuff.

Tosca said...

Timothy--role-playing turned out to produce a lot of writing. Granted, this was back in the day before games like Everquest, and before playstations... when modems were dial-up. We had message boards and empty chat rooms to paint epic battles. I thought often, at the time "wow, I'm wasting a lot of time." (And I did.) But I look back now and feel that I learned a lot.

Catrina Bradley said...

Tosca, this is the best article/writing lesson on characterization I've ever read. I can tell you even put your emotional all into sharing these tips with us. I love the writing exercises too. Thank you!

The female character I can never forget is Scarlett O'Hara. She is snide, cunning, selfish, hateful, intelligent, flirtatious, ambitious, driven.....she refuses to give up. I see many of my lesser qualities in her, but unlike me, she somehow makes them work. :)


Melanie Pike said...

What a great post! I'll have to copy and paste it into Word to print out (when my printer and ink cartridge are speaking to each other again, that is) to have on hand. I love working with my characters and figuring them out. A long time ago (uh-oh, sounds like "Star Wars"...), when I was in high school, a friend of mine read the first novel I'd ever written. It dealt with reincarnation (I wasn't saved until many years later) and Scotland. My friend wrote on the front cover something about it being the "talkingest" book he'd ever read. I do characters fairly well and dialogue definitely well, whereas description falls by the wayside. But I love coming up with the whys and wherefores and backgrounds of my characters. :)

Favorite fictional characters? I honestly don't know, partly because I don't remember them all that well (my husband and son have the great memories for things like that, whereas I have a great memory for other things). Scarlett O'Hara did pop into my head, although I didn't care for her all that much; I thought she was an idiot for treating Rhett the way she did. I loved Marcellus, the Roman soldier in Lloyd C. Douglas's book "The Robe", as he goes from winning Christ's robe while gambling to becoming a great believer. What a book! And what a character!

Thank you, Tosca, for the post. :) I have yet to read one of your books, so please toss my name in to win one. Blessings!

Stephen Pollard said...

This is so awesome. As I just finished the first draft of my current project a couple of weeks ago and will be revising after some heavy research, this is incredibly helpful.

Hope to win a book. Sheba's the only one I don't know own yet!

Tosca said...

Thank you, Catrina and Melanie! I like writing exercises a lot, and not only for writing. I use them a lot in my own personal life for making decisions or figuring things out. :)

Tosca said...

Way to go, Stephen!!

DL Perching said...

Saving this great post. I love your writing. Found Demon in the Christian Fiction section at Barnes & Noble and thought "Of course I have to read a book called Demon written by a follower of Christ. This should be interesting." I wasn't disappointed. Read through it in no time. Couldn't put it down. God bless you. Thanks for sharing your writing tips. Love your stuff Asylum, too.

Chill N said...

A super, helpful teaching post, Tosca! Thank you.

As if you hadn't given enough in the post's insight and questions, there was this terrific thought in one of your comments: "my first rule of writing is always 'write like no one will ever read this.' " Exactly what I needed to 'hear' today :-)

Wishing you all the best in you marriage!

Nancy C

Anna Weaver Hurtt said...

Great post, Tosca! I don't have time at the moment, but I'm looking forward to using those writing prompts to deepen my characters.

Tosca said...

DL--thank you for picking Demon up that day in B&N! I'm so glad you enjoyed it and thank you for being a part of The Asylum. Blessings to you.

Tosca said...

Thank you, Nancy and Anna!

Sandra Allen Lovelace said...

Hi Tosca. Congratulations on you upcoming marriage. May the Lord bless your wedding with all the joy and peace you two can handle. Amen

I simply must have a copy of Forbidden! Thank you.

Tosca said...

Thank you, Sandra!

Ian Acheson said...

Tosca - waving at you as one of the Aussie members of the Asylum.

Wow, what a post. You've provided a feast of things for us to work through. Thank you. I've been struggling with my latest manuscript for too long because I was having to confront some of my own muck and then I realised that was what the Lord wanted me to do through the drafting process. Sure, not include it all, as it's not a memoir but use the experience as a form of therapy with the Holy Counsellor as my guide.

I'm now in editing mode so you're lists have provided me with much material to consider.

Thanks again, Tosca. So excited for your nuptials in a few weeks - be assured of my prayers.

Jane said...

Woke up. Let the dog out. Made coffee. Hooked up my laptop. Refused to feel (too) guilty for missing my 6:30 am exercise class. Started sorting my emails. Noticed Seekerville. Clicked and opened. Grabbed a free scratch pad from yesterday's mail. Wrote a quarter page before thinking, "Enough! Use a jump drive and copy this! There's some GOOD stuff here! Print it! Yeah!"
Dear Tosca, thank-you.
Jane Wells

Linda Bonney Olin said...

Wow, Tosca, what a great post! Your writing prompts are wonderfully insight-provoking "meditation prompts" for anyone, writer or not.
Thank you.

Lauren Ann said...

Thank you for such an insightful post, the writing prompts are fantastic!! Definitely printing this for later and much more use! Thank you!


Tosca said...

So awesome to hear this--and so sorry to hear about the struggles. But this isn't your first rodeo so I know it's going to be great. :)

And thank you, Ian!!

Deanna Stevens said...

Interesting... I do enjoy Historical and have read one of Tosca's books.. Please toss me into the bowl.. I'd love a chance to read another

Tosca said...

Lol! Thank you, Jane--I hope it's helpful!

Tosca said...

Thank you, Lauren!

Tosca said...

Thank you, Linda!

Tosca said...

Thank you for reading, Deanna. :)

Kate said...

Your books look so intriguing! They are on my TBR list!!!

Sierra Faith said...

Thanks for the wonderful tips, Tosca!

Tosca said...

Thank you, Kate and Sierra. :)

Ben and Phyllis said...

Thank you for a great article! And contests too. I'd love to win a copy of "Rocky Mountain Reunion"
May God's peace be with you all!

Candi said...

Thanks for the info! And the contest as well!!

bonton said...

I truly enjoyed your post, Tosca - thank you so much!!

I have so many fave characters and books - they definitely are the characters in which I could see myself, those books in which the author invested much of his/herself and his/her own life's experiences, books that portray raw emotions, dysfunction, and the realistic problems/situations of today. I love books about "bad" or "problem" boys/girls turned "good" through the grace of God - that is the story of my past.

I feel there is a real need for this kind of book, and appreciate the way God uses those situations in a fiction book to speak to readers, change their lives, and draw them into a closer relationship with Him.

I haven't had the pleasure of reading any of your books, Tosca, but love fiction books based on biblical characters and would love to read yours!! Please drop my name in the drawing to win one. Thank you!!

Beth S. said...

Tosca, I have one of your books on my kindle tbr and I have several on my wishlist! The emotional element of stories is really what draws me in and keeps me reading. Thanks for the giveaway and please enter me!