Thank you Seekerville for hosting me today. I love to talk about writing. So let’s start with a question. What is the most memorable part of a story?
We might remember a setting, such as middle earth, a ship in space or a plantation in the Deep South. We might remember the dialogue, those pithy sayings that end up on memes. But for sure we remember great characters, like Scarlett O’Hara and Ret Butler. Frodo and Sam. Dorothy and Oz. Hans and Lea. Ironman and Pepper Potts. The list could go on and on.
There are so many different approaches to take when developing characters. There’s the throw everything at the wall and see what sticks method. Or there are more methodical ways to go about creating unique and unforgettable characters. In my opinion, no one way is better than another. They all work. They all bring out different aspects of characterization. I do a bit of both but lean more toward the methodical style. I use a variety of methods, blending them together to build three-dimensional characters that I hope will be remembered long after readers put down the book. Here some of the ways I build my characters.
1) Goal, Motivation and Conflict by Debra Dixon.
When I first started writing I had no concept of GMC. Soon after I joined Romance Writers of America and the local chapter here in the Rose City, I attended one of Debra Dixon’s workshops and my mind was blown. It made so much sense. I immediately bought her book and devoured it. Each character must have a goal for the story and for their lives. There has to be compelling motivation to make the reader care and enough conflict that keeps the characters from reaching the goal to make the story interesting.
2) The Plot Doctor by Carolyn Greene.
I learned about The Plot Doctor through another writer. I ordered the workbook, back then it came by snail mail. I was so excited to delve into the forms. Did I mention I love forms? The workbook provided is a wonderful tool for organizing the characters and explores deep into the characters psyche, expounding on GMC and adding in misguided goals and things to consider that help the characters grow. There are plotting charts as well as character charts and clear directions on how to use them.
3) Psychological tools such as Enneagrams with Laurie Schnebly and Archetypes (here’s a good list from author Jill Williamson). There are many more sites that list archetypes.
These aren’t the only resources to draw from: there’s Myers-Briggs, Strength Finders, and a whole host of other personality tests and quizzes online. Whatever source you use, it’s only a tool, not an absolute. However, having a template for a character to draw from is an invaluable place to start. Building upon the character traits for any of the enneagrams or archetypes can jump start the creative process. And even combining them help to round out the characters. In my October release A Family Under the Christmas Tree, my hero is an Achiever/Investigator but also a bit of a Lost Soul while the heroine is an Individualist/Loyalist but also a bit of a Free Spirit.
4) The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler is based on the work of Joseph Campbell, A Hero with a Thousand Faces. Mr. Vogler outlines the 12 steps of a Hero’s Journey that help in plotting but also in creating the character arc. You can also find a Heroine’s journey and a list of Archetypes on The Writer’s Journey website.
I use the twelve steps in every book and when I am blocked in my writing I refer back to them to see if I’ve gone off course. One of the building blocks of the 12 steps is Tests, Allies, and Enemies. These can be interwoven throughout the story and help to reveal different aspects of the character. Meeting with the Mentor is a wonderful opportunity to show character growth within the story.
In my other October release Identity Unknown, my hero has lost his memory so meeting with the Mentor in the form of people from his past helps him, and the reader, discover who he is. Using Allies and Enemies as a way to draw out intrinsic traits that reveal to the heroine who this man is was a wonderful device that allowed me to explore the characters in deeper ways.
5) Story Mastery by Michael Hauge. Hauge has it all. Story arc, plot, and characters. I highly recommend reading his books and, if possible, attending one of his workshops. I have learned so much from his methods on building story, from the logline/pitch to the very last line of the book. Hauge and Vogler have worked together and teach together as well. A potent combination of learning. They have a DVD of their combined methods and show how they complement each other. Hauge also has forms that help to organize and deepen characterization.
6) Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain. This is the best book on writing fiction that I’ve ever read. I can’t stress enough how important it is that authors read this text. It can be a bit dry but worth devouring. I have two copies, one I read and reread that is highlighted and written in the margins on and a pristine copy for when the other disintegrates.
7) The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. This is a great resource for showing how your characters love and feel loved. It’s also a good resource for personal growth. If your hero is constantly seeking ways to fix things (Acts of Service), the heroine can realize that he’s showing her his feelings even if he’s not saying them. Or if your heroine’s encouraging words (Words of Affirmation) make the hero feel special, he can understand that she is showing him she cares. Using the Love Languages is a wonderful way to enhance characterization.
8) Character interviews—peeling back the layers of the character, like the layers of an onion. I first heard of this from author Melissa McClone. I ask my characters to tell me their story. I write freehand whatever pops into my mind. Then I ask the characters to tell me their secrets. This can be anything from large scale to incidental. It all helps to round out the character and make them more three-dimensional. It’s also important to keep track of the physical details of your characters and their backstory. There are many different character sketch templates out there to choose from. I tend to write it all out longhand during my interview process. As well as find photographs of the character’s likeness to keep on my desktop for easy reference while I’m writing.
9) Observe Life—okay this seems like a no-brainer, but it’s important to watch how people interact, their body language, their mannerisms, the inflections in their tone of voice. This is a great way to pick up nuances of character that will add an extra layer of believability to your characters. People-watching is an extremely valuable way to spend some time. Jot down notes of your observations and what you perceive to be going on in the people you’re watching. Though, a word of caution, don’t be creepy or obvious about it. You’ll lose the natural moment and could get in trouble.
This is by no means an exhaustive list and I’d love to hear from other authors if there’s something that works for you. And from readers (and authors), I’d love to hear some of the most memorable characters you’ve read and why.
In honor of Seekerville's Birthday and the upcoming Christmas holiday, I’m giving away one grand prize gift pack with my two new releases, Identity Unknown & A Family Under the Christmas Tree, plus a light up angel ornament, chocolate, a book bag and a journal, (compliments of author Pamela Tracy)!
And to three additional winners, copies of the Love Inspired Suspense Classic—2 books in 1 volume—Double Cross and Double Threat Christmas. Per Seekerville guidelines, winners announced in the Weekend Edition.
Terri Reed’s romance and romantic suspense novels have appeared on Publisher’s Weekly top 25, Nielsen’s Bookscan top 100 and featured in USA Today, Christian Fiction Magazine and Romantic Times Magazine, finaled in RWA’s RITA contest, National Reader’s Choice Award contest, ACFW’s The Carol Award contest. Contact Terri @ www.terrireed.com or P.O. Box 19555 Portland, OR 97224
Harlequin has a HUGE sale going on until October 25th, so catch up on your Terri Reed Love Inspired Suspense here for $1.99!
|Order Your Copy Here.|
David Murphy never knew much about kids. But when his brother dies unexpectedly, David is granted custody of his six-year-old nephew, Troy, who he’s only seen once a year since he was born. He already has his hands full running his business, and he has no idea how to help the grieving boy. When Troy runs off one day, David finds him at a park playing with an adorable and rambunctious Bernese mountain dog—who leads him to Sophie.
Sophie Griffith has spent her life travelling around the world as a photojournalist. She has never stayed in one place for long, and her new assignment—helping her grandmother for a few weeks—is just temporary. Once Christmas day comes, Sophie is off the hook and can leave for a new adventure. Caring for her grandmother is a piece of cake—but caring for her new Bernese mountain dog, Riggs, is a different story. It doesn’t help that Riggs strikes up a friendship with a lost little boy one day at the park—and leads her to David.
Neither David nor Sophie have time for romance. But as they spend more time together, they start falling for each other even though they know it can’t go anywhere. Sophie will be gone after Christmas, and the last thing David needs is another distraction as he tries to comfort Troy. But as their faith and growing love for the boy and dog unites them, they wonder whether it’s more than a holiday romance…and maybe Troy might finally get his Christmas wish for a family.