Monday, August 4, 2008

And then there were THREE

This is kind of new to me. I have an anthology out. It came out last week.
Funny thing.
A book I wrote that came out in the Heartsong Presents book club and now it's rereleased, very little fan fare, no book signings, although I'm hoping the book signings I have for Calico Canyon might also offer copies of Alaska Brides.
No press releases.
I wonder why that is?
Anyway, not what I want to write about today, I'm just mentioning it because the poor little book is being ignored and I'm it's co-mommy.
Moving on...................
I had a fun exchange with Debra Ullrick last week. We were talking Characters. She asked me for advice, and my advice to her was, "Run for your life before you take advice from me."
But the woman has zero self-preservation skills so she told me she wanted to hear what I thought.
she said what I told her was understandable at least...all the better to confuse her for an extended period of time of course, so since we're talking about writing skills here I thought I'd recreated that advice for you Seekerville folks and then we can debate it a little.
Is this good advice? Does it work every time? Does Debra now need electoshock therapy to erase my advice from her mind? And most importantly, is electroshock therapy covered under most Health Insurance Plans?
I spend last week going over Book #1 in my cozy mystery series, Of Mice and Murder. Here is a not-yet-finalized cover, but Susan Downs from Heartsong Presents Mysteries says it will look a lot like this.
I FORBADE Susan to put a mouse on the cover and she laughed (cyberly) in my face. Arg! Maxie the Mouse Mysteries!
Anyway, because of this week's galley editing, I've been thinking of these characters in Of Mice and Murder.
A lot of people say that for them, a book always starts with characters. They’ve got a guy in mind or a heroine with an attitude and then they have to hunt up a story so they can deal with that character.
It’s never like that for me.
For me it always starts with story.
I’ve got a story I want to tell and the characters come after that. Even when the characters are secondary characters in a series, I still think in terms of story first.
Maybe because of that, creating characters is a kind of painful process for me. I love it, but it comes slow…and that’s mainly because I just start writing my story. The characters have to come along for the ride.
When I start writing the story, it takes me a while to really know the characters and I nearly always end up with an ah-ha moment when the guy especially finally fully becomes real to me. The guy, more so than the girl for some reason, usually takes about the first hundred pages.
Then I need to go back and weave this guy into the book and have him react as he really is (now) and have other people react to HIM as he really is.

Like I said, I just finished doing galleys on my cozy mystery. Of Mice and Murder, the first of a three book series, is a different voice for me and God bless Barbour for letting me write in different genres. Maybe 'different voice' isn't right, the romantic comedy is still the same. But it's a little different style of story for sure.
I just LOVE this hero who emerged from Of Mice and Murder. Nick O'Connor is outwardly a classic, tall, dark, handsome knight-in-shining armor, but inside he's this fat genius math geek who was five two and weighed 200 pounds in junior high and was bullied and his interior life is just chaotic.
He's always thinking things like, 'God make me cool.' 'Please God make me smooth and suave and classy' 'no, no, no don't say that you idiot'!
Then he just says something so stupid. And usually it's because he's just fraught with all these self doubts and he also daydreams a lot and that distract him from what's going on around him. I think Nick is a really fun, funny character.
And of course, everyone around him just sees Mr. Tall Dark and Handsome so they’re not getting any insecure vibes at all because it just doesn’t fit with their perception of him.
Giving a character flaws and doubts and weaknesses, especially when you're trying to make them act cool and making other people, like the love interest react to them like they're cool, can deepen characters. Characters need these small flaws to be fully human, I think. Of course they need the deep, aching, broken hearted conflict that is so fundamental, but something lighter, brighter, silly even adds dimension. And for the cozy mystery I didn't have to go that deep into character conflict because honestly, I was busy trying to solve a murder.
Also in the cozy Of Mice and Murder, my heroine is terrified of mice. (that's the part of me in the book) I make that a running joke through the whole book. And she thinks she's a complete idiot for being afraid but she can NOT control it and everybody in her small hometown knows about her phobia and they tease her mercilessly, except for the hero, who is trapping her mice for her.

So what do you do to create characters?
I've heard of interviewing them.
I've heard of doing excel spreadsheets.
One thing I do know is : writers come at writing in lots and lots of different ways and no one way is right. So I'm not gonna tell you how to do it, rather I'd like to learn how you do it, since it's a sort of slow process for me.
How do you create characters? Let's hear it.


  1. Hello????

    Did someone post a contest award for the LONGEST post ever and Mary just had to go for it?

    Because a win's a win, right????

    Oh my stars, talk about verbiage...

    And these cozies, darling, they're kind of short, aren't they? And Heartsongs, they're slightly smaller too...

    Which makes me wonder how someone as LONG-WINDED as Mary can cut enough words to get by Susan Downs, but she seems to do it, so I'll let it go.

    Story vs. character????

    Which comes first?

    I think in my case it's usually the character. I see something, or someone, a light bulb flashes and I get a Polaroid-type read of their personality, and boom! story emerges.

    Which means I jump to conclusions about people all the time, how unfair is that????

    On my way to a wedding the other day, I exchanged glances with the guy whose car was idling behind me...

    Upscale SUV, picture-perfect, great dye job soccer mom with Jennifer Aniston hair, and perfect nails to complement her designer tee, and in that instant, I saw a story...

    And how much fun it will be to write, LOL!

    The details will come later, but the basic story is there, in my head, waiting for a few weeks of down time.

    I'm interested to see how everyone else sees this.

    And to spur those thoughts, I've got a full pot of Vanilla Bisciotti coffee waiting, with a side of French Vanilla creamers....

    And whipped cream, of course!

    Also, the local Wegmans sent us a tray full of breakfast Danish and croissants.

    And I'm starving.

    Help yourself, ladies, it looks to be a beautiful day.


  2. Hi Mary,
    Wow, what an interesting post. YOu're lucky you get the story first because then you have a plot. I usually hear/see/feel characters first in a scene and then I struggle to come up with a plot.
    Very cool.

  3. M'mmm ... vanilla ... I wish I'd picked up a danish before a cold Pop-Tart!

    I liked reading about your Nick, Mary. I think my cousin dated him!

    I'm writing this between checking the weather radar and listening for the hay elevator to start, because we've got wagons to unload before rain comes.

    Characters ... well, I guess ... a picture or an experience makes me start wondering. Hiking at a state park: what if you were a stranger here, a pioneer, out after dark, and had no idea the trail ends in a cliff about 100 yards up there.

    Or, seeing pictures of a Confederate cavalry raid through my home state ... started what-if-ing.

    When I was a kid, we toured a historic mansion and while looking at self in mirror, tried to imagine self in debutante gown instead of T-shirt and jeans.

    Stuff like that. Then it sort of grows like a math problem: "If (this) then ... "

    None of this is published, so, I don't know if this helps or not ;-)

    But it's fun to hang out here!

  4. I enjoyed your post Mary. The long and short of it (pun intended) is this will get new writers really thinking about how important it is to have fully developed characters and not just cardboard cut know like those cute paper dolls we played with as kids.

    For me, characters pop into my head first. I see an image of a person and glimmers of their personality.

    One technique I use is I scan the Internet for images, whether paintings or photographs and find one that reflects my characters. I cut and paste it to a Word doc. and then write a paragraph about this person. What would be my first impression if I were to meet him face to face, living and breathing? What kind of man or woman is this character...kind, cruel, prideful, giving. It's a who, what, and how kind of thing.

    I probably didn't make much sense. But making a character list with images really propels me into a story.

  5. Mary -- My initial ideas often come as a "combo" package. A first line or bit of dialogue will pop into my head. Then I think WHO ON EARTH would say or think that and UNDER WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES? And then aw-a-a-a-y we go!

  6. Great topic, Mare! Really made me think ... which is hard to do this early in the morning, so thanks ... I guess.

    I am definitely a character-driven storyteller, so I come up with characters first. For instance, when I think of my favorite novel of all time, Gone With the Wind, I don't see a sprawling Civil War epic with a cast of characters and historical lessons, I see Scarlett O'Hara -- hard, beautiful, selfish and driven with a tenacity I would kill for. So in my own novels, that's pretty much where I begin -- a defining character that defines the story for me.

    So how do I create characters? Like Ruthy and Inspire, characters come first and I usually pull them from strangers I see or people I know, then breathe life into them with emotions and experiences from my own life. Faith in A Passion Most Pure is my spiritual self, driven for God, but very human. And Charity in book 2, A Passion Redeemed is my sensual self, before I came to God -- a Scarlett O'Hara-type character -- selfish, hard, slutty and oh, so much fun to write!!

    Man, thank God I have a ton of split personalities or I wouldn't be able to complete this series.

  7. It's weird, but my book ideas, the ones that stick with me long enough to get written, come to me as character and story together. To me, characters aren't interesting unless they have a story, and a story's not interesting without characters to care about.

    But truthfully, how I came up with each of my books is a little fuzzy. They evolve and become so real to me, and then I don't remember what I thought of first.

  8. And by the way, your hero sounds great, Mary! I can't wait to read Of Mice and Murder!

  9. You are not alone, Mary. I, too start with story first. Although, I have to agree with Melanie, that as story starts to develop, characters grow with it, so it is hard to completely separate the chicken from the egg.

    I usually begin with plot ideas for the inciting incident, setting, and time period and then dream up the perfect characters for that situation. Usually I start with just a vague notion of their occupation and why they would be thrown together. Then, as I imagine more and more troubling situations for the two unsuspecting souls, I dig deeper into their emerging personalities to extract their motivations.

    I love flaws and quirks. Physical, emotional, spiritual, whatever seems right for the characters. Makes them more interesting and way more fun.

    Thanks, Mary for your post. Looking forward to seeing you at ACFW.

  10. I'm like you, Mary, I write the first 40-50 pages, knowing what I want the characters to do, but not really knowing who they are. Then I have that "A HA!" moment, and have to go back and fix up the first part of the book to reflect what I now know about the people in it.

    And I got an email about Alaska Brides from They're announcing its arrival, at least to folks who have bought similar books from them in the past, or bought books by one of the authors in the anthology.

    Can't wait to read Of Mice and Murder.

  11. Oh Mary! You're writing cozies?! I am a HUGE cozy mystery fan!! With your wit and humor, I can't wait!!!

    An enthusiastic mystery fan,

  12. Mary, it sounds like you're a hit, girlfriend!

    Two cozy mystery fans! Yay.

    Add them to the other one you have and it's almost a party.


    Hey, you guys are doing just fine over here, but I see we're low on a few things.


    Where the heck is Mary????


    Connealy, you out there?

    Oh for heaven's sake, I'll make some fresh, Southern-style lemonade (which means I'm not using Country Time, LOL!) and I grabbed this sandwich tray at DiBella's bakery....

    DiBella's is a local Italian deli/sub shop that makes the worlds greatest heroes/hoagies/subs, whatever you want to call 'em... I think they use something highly illegal in their bread dough recipe, because they're totally addictive.

    The good thing is, they don't affect your driving.

    Bad thing is, they do affect your waistline, but SO good...

    There's an assortment of combos. I'm partial to the 'Godfather' sub, an array of Italian meats and provolone...

    With homemade Italian dressing, of course. Under the mayo. I will never be thin again, but that's okay.

    And the kids and I made Ghiradelli chocolate chip cookies this morning, using the milk chocolate chips. Help yourselves, ladies.

    And Mary, I've got a 4 oz. low-fat, Splenda yogurt for you, honey.


    Your loving friend,


  13. My characters usually come to me out of the blue and we go from there.

    I love the mouse LOL!


  14. I think I start with story first, then develop the characters...uh...I think.

    Maybe that's why my current idea isn't coming along too well. I'm trying to put the cart...the characters before the plot. for thought.

    Ruthy, would you puh-leaze quit dangling all that food in front of me!!!

    Otherwise, I'm going to be forced to come through this monitor and devour that Godfather sub you have over there!

  15. Are you kidding me? Your COMMENT is longer than my post, Ruthy!

    I am half crazed from a day when I could NOT get to my computer. It may be a withdrawal symptom...yikes.

    I don't want to be cured, I just want my internet back.

  16. Hi, Jessica, lucky? Well, okay but making those characters come out and play is a little painful.

    And Ann, wagons? Unloading? You're a farm wife? Did I know this? It is so important that you tell me these things. Farm wives have GOT to stick together.

    Honestly Ann, war and debutants and cliffs? Those are beautiful and noble sources for stories.

    My cozy? The inspiration for that story? I drove by a billboard sign on an interstate that said, "Home of the World's Largest Bumblebee, next left."

    Only to be brought more fully to life when I read the story of "Algona Iowa, Home of the World's Largest Cheeto."

    and yet, I got a book out of it.

  17. Yes, we are all thank ful for your split personalities, Julie. Did you know that we make you pick up the check once for each personality? Excellent to have to come along to things.

    Inspire, I hear people say this a LOT that they see people or pictures or 'people watch' and make up stories based on that.

    I'm not the world's most observant person.

    I'm one of those people who would witness a crime and later the police would say, "Describe the gunman, Ma'am."

    I'd say he's kind of shortish tall and fattish thin, and I think he was african american or maybe hispanic, or maybe black Irish, you know, dark mostly, well some, maybe blondish in the sunlight.

    Did I mention he was on the tall side of short?

    Instead I miss most of life and that's cuz I'm busy daydreaming, making up stories. :)

  18. You know, Melanie I think that's the same method I use trying to figure out the internet. trying this and that, letting it grow, turning aside, until finally I get whatever I'm after to behave...and then I can't remember how I did it?

  19. karen's probably got it about right, along with Melanie, the two, plot and character evolve together, not always gracefully, but in fits and starts and it's sort of a 'chicken and the egg' thing.

    Sometimes I wish I could just EAT the chicken and the egg. Could we have that tomorrow, Ruthy?
    Chicken Quiche maybe???

  20. Hello Erika. Thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you have the AH HA moment, too.

    I think maybe, my last book


    Cowboy Christmas due in February, comign Christmas 2009 is now in the hopper! It needs revisions but it's done.

    I struggled because the story just came so fast...that happens once in a while, I didn't get a good solid grasp of the main characters, so lots os going back, getting the attitude right.

    But I enjoy that so I'm good.



    My cozy is a little different than the others I'm afraid.

    Too much romance. The characters may have taken Quirky to a previously unheard of level.

    We shall see if it works.

    It works for me. :)

  22. Do you REALLY love the mouse, Pamela? Because if you do, that's just disturbing.

    My sister's child has a white rat.

    I am no longer able to visit their home.

    I do NOT thing this is a coincidence.

    It's like Ruth thought???


    the rat won :(

  23. This is so awesome. How do WE create characters. They find me and then refuse to leave. Very simple.

  24. So, Tina, are you a writer, or are you being haunted??

    Only your exorcist knows for sure.

  25. Mary said: everybody in her small hometown knows about her phobia and they tease her mercilessly, except for the hero, who is trapping her mice for her.

    I love that!! You captured the hero and heroine's love perfectly here. (He loves her enough not to tease and to catch the mice for her.) Thanks for the lesson in characterization!!

    I'm just back for RWA and have to catch up from this past week, so it may take a while!


  26. Hey, Missy, we need a whole blog post about RWA. C'mon girl. Tell all.

    Lessons learned, connections made, brushes with greatness, personal triumphs and of course, if you happened to notice Janet acting foolishly, we need to know about that.

  27. Hi Mary, Back on cell phone Internet so have to wait until 9:00 pm. Congrats on your anthology. I love it and with great co-authors. I'm surprised you didn't get a fanfare, but I do know that the Christian bookstores really highlight the anthologies. I guess they sell easily, esp with big name authors on them.

    I agree with Ruthy, You get the award for longest post. smile. Isn't it fun to win?