Friday, September 24, 2010


I’ve often been asked how I create the characters in my books and generally respond, “That’s a tough question.”

It’s tough, because a character will start as a tiny idea, then grow, and develop as I spend more time thinking about him or her. They sometimes develop because of the plot. Say my character is a marshal—this is probably a good time to mention I write mostly historicals. A marshal is brave, tough, not afraid to put his life on the line, so it’s safe to assume he’s probably an Alpha male. Tall, strong, self-reliant, and a protector of the innocent. Can you imagine a Beta male as a marshal? Think computer geek with a gun. It reminds me of that old Don Knotts’ movie called The Shakiest Gun in the West.

I’m not saying you couldn’t have a Beta male as a marshal, but that would be a whole different type of story, probably about a man learning to conquer his fears to protect the people he cares for.

Some writers use character sheets with long list of questions to develop their characters, while others use tests like the Myers-Briggs or The Four Temperaments. What I’ve found that works best for me is a book called The Complete Writers Guide to Heroes and Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes by Tami D. Cowden, Caro LaFever, and Sue Viders.

Author Tami Cowden states, “These archetypes are not the inventions of my coauthors and me – they have existed for millennia. All we did was name and describe them, and then gather examples from an assortment of cultural media.

Heroes and Heroines describes 8 male and 8 female archetypes.

The Chief
The Bad Boy
The Best Friend
The Charmer
The Lost Soul
The Professor
The Swashbuckler
The Warrior

The book gives a complete description of each archetype, including their strengths and weaknesses, which I’ve found extremely helpful in developing 3-D characters. The Warrior is an archetype I’ve used for several of my heroes, such as Luke Davis in The Anonymous Bride. Here’s a brief description of the Warrior archetype:

The WARRIOR: a noble champion, he acts with honor. This man is the reluctant rescuer or the knight in shining armor. He's noble, tenacious, relentless, and he always sticks up for the underdog. If you need a protector, he’s your guy. He doesn’t buckle under the rules and he doesn’t go along just to get along. Think Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry, Russell Crowe in Gladiator, Mel Gibson in Braveheart.

You can see how this type of archetype would work well for a marshal, a determined rancher, or a detective.


The Boss
The Seductress
The Spunky Kid
The Waif
The Free Spirit
The Librarian
The Crusader
The Nurturer

An archetype I often use for a heroine—think of Jack (Jacqueline) in The Anonymous Bride—is The Spunky Kid. (For those of you who’ve read my book and are saying, Jack’s not the heroine—just wait until the third book, Finally A Bride, comes out next April)

The SPUNKY KID: gutsy and true, she is loyal to the end. She is a favorite of many writers, and for good reason. You can’t help but root for her. She’s the girl with moxie. She’s not looking to be at the top of the heap; she just wants to be in her own little niche. She’s the team player, the one who is always ready to lend a hand. Think Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle, Melanie Griffith in Working Girl, Mary Tyler Moore in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act, Fiona in Shrek.

So, after I’ve thought about my storyline and what my characters will be facing during the story, their character begins to take shape. I begin to see what kind of person they will be, and I determine which archetype they are.

Another aspect of Heroes and Heroines I love is that it shows you toward the end of the book how the different male and female archetypes will clash and mesh. This is fabulous info! Let me show you how I used this to plot a book I ‘m still writing called Gabriel’s Atonement.

Gabriel is a gambler, and he’s a Chief archetype. He’s knows what he wants and goes after it. He’s decisive and can read people well. On the negative side, he’s stubborn, usually unsympathetic, and has learned to get what he wants by using the System rather than being a rule-breaker. He is well-liked among his peers, but he doesn’t have a close friend. If challenged, he tends to be amused rather than angered.

Enter Leah, my heroine, who is—no surprise here—a Spunky Kid. She’s a single mother with a young child, a rebellious teen sister, and a grandfather who is ailing to care for. She is reliable and supportive of others and never looks for a handout. Her gutsy perseverance makes up for her lack of experience.

So…Gabriel accidently killed Leah’s husband. When he discovers the dead man has a wife and young son, he seeks to return the money he fairly won from the man, to ease his guilty conscience. Leah doesn’t believe her no-account husband had any money and refuses Gabe’s help. He’s determined to help her whether the stubborn woman whether she wants him to or not. Enter conflict.

He believes work (gambling) is important, where she believes in God and family. But, when the chips are down, The Chief and Spunky Kid are there for each other. He realizes she is someone he can depend on, while she discovers he’s a man who follows through when others don’t. A grudging respect develops. He learns she can’t be bullied into doing anything she doesn’t feel is right, while her positive outlook on life and her humor bring laughter into his world for the first time in a long while.

I could go on, but I hope you’ve caught a glimpse of how using archetypes can help you develop your characters. The key is knowing why your characters do what they do. What motivates them?

Leave a comment to get your name in the drawing for a copy of my current book:
Second Chance Brides, book two in my Texas Boardinghouse Brides series, is now available. Second Chance Brides tells the story of two rejected mail-order brides who are stranded in Texas without any means of support. They must find a job—not an easy task for a woman in a small town—or find another man to marry.

And I'm in a Christmas novella collection--in bookstores now--called Christmas Mail Order Brides

Bio: Award-winning author Vickie McDonough has lived in Oklahoma all her life, except for a year when she and her husband lived on a kibbutz in Israel. Vickie has had 18 books and novellas published, and historical Christian romance is her favorite genre to read and write.
Vickie is currently the ACFW treasurer, and a founding member of WIN, an ACFW chapter in Tulsa, OK. She is a member of RWA, CAN, Women Writing the West, and OWFI.
She is a wife of thirty-four years, mother of four grown sons and grandma to a feisty four-year-old girl.
When she’s not writing, Vickie enjoys reading, gardening, watching movies, and traveling. To learn more about Vickie’s books, visit her website:


  1. Hehe you totally have me wanting to see The Shakiest Gun in the West again! I haven't seen that movie in ages. I used to have the VHS tape but it died because my family watched it so much! Don Knotts sure was a funny Indian Princess LOL!

    XOXO~ Renee

  2. How interesting!

    Every day is full of surprises. Will look forward to reading more from that resource. Thx! And to Mary for having you today.

    How about some herbal tea and. A little fruit since it's late?

    Helen will be here soon I'm sure.

    Would love to read so please enter may at maythek9spy dot com. Thx!

  3. Hi Vickie:

    I’ve read research that indicates women find a sense of humor to be sexy in a man. Yet I do not find many heroes that have a demonstrated sense of humor in romances. Do the archetypes say anything about having a sense of humor?

    Also, have you used your kibbutz experience in a romance? I’d love to read a kibbutz story.

    BTW: I live in Tulsa. Please email me about any local book signings you might have planned.


    vmres (at) swbell (dot) net

  4. Yep, KC, here's Helen with the coffee!

    These books sound like fun reads. Would love to get my hands on them.


  5. This was an intriguing post! :) It definitely offers a different perspective on characterization. Your stories sound interesting, and I would love a chance to win your latest one! :D

    Thank you!



    P.S. Anyone want hot chocolate? Fresh from our campus' coffee shop! :D

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Vince,

    I would be curious to hear about that, too! In one of the Jane Austen movies I've seen, Northanger Abbey, the hero (Henry Tilney) has a great sense of humor, and I definitely loved that! :) Could that go with the idea of falling in love with someone who is (or becomes) your best friend? Because you would want to be comfortable with the person you marry, and humor goes along with that, right?

    Just some thoughts. ;)


  8. Vickie,

    Using the "Heroes and Heroines" book is a great idea. Do you mostly follow the way they are described or do you switch out some of the characteristics so it isn't totally true to the "guidelines."

    My first reaction is that everyone's heroes would be similar if we used this, but I guess individual creativity would make everyone's a little different?

    I'd love to win the book.

    cathy underscore shouse at yahoo

  9. Great post, Vicki. I recently finished a course on conflict where the instructor encouraged us to get Tami Cowden's book and I'm so glad I did. I highly recommend it to anyone wanting to develop deeper characters.

    I'll be putting your series on my TBR list.


  10. Wow, Vickie
    What a great post. I love those lists of archetypes. I'm going to search out that book.
    Gee, my wish list is getting incredibly long - especially after ACFW
    It was nice to meet you, btw.
    And your stories sound wonderful.
    Anonymous Bride I've read, but I can't wait to get a chance to read the others.
    Thanks for the post.

  11. Vicki,

    Thank you for such a great post, like a few others, I intended on looking for that heros and heroine books.

    Your books sound great. I'm glad you like to write historical Christmas romances because I like to read them!

    RRossZediker at yahoo dot com

  12. Hi Vickie,

    Welcome to Seekerville.

    Great to have you. I remember when you received your first sale so really glad to see how well you are doing.

    This book sounds great and your examples really help. Like so many who have posted already, another book to put on my list.

    What a great idea to have a boardinghouse series. To go with that I brought some boardinghouse fare.

    Stacks of pancakes smothered with honey or syrup.

    A platter of eggs surrounded by sausage and bacon.

    Hot pot of oatmeal with raisins.

    Ymmm can you just picture the boardinghouse gang around that table?

  13. What a treat this morning, Vicki. One of my crit partners mentioned that character book again just last week. She swears by it.

    Congrats on 18 books! That's a lot of characters to love.

    Have a great weekend Vicki and everyone. Happy Fall! I've decided it's the season with the most beautiful skies.

  14. Now I'm wanting to see that movie too!
    I've been wanting to read the Boardinghouse books..just haven't made my way to them yet though.

  15. Every time I see the words "Sleepless in Seattle," I'm reminded that the movie is sometimes called "Saving Meg Ryan."

    Getting those characters down into a specific type is difficult for me sometimes. I've used Myers-Briggs on my novels and discovered a few things about my characters. However, I've had characters that were hard to place. I'm wondering if that means I haven't done enough to develop the character.


  16. Vickie, welcome! I'm so glad you joined us today. Excellent post!! I'm also a fan of this book. I like it because it helps choose careers for our characters as well. And like you, I really like that part that shows how the heros and heroines mix. :)

    Thanks again for the great post and for sharing your example!

  17. Great insights to ponder. Sigh. There's soooo much to know about this writing craft, isn't there?

    I know most of you have just come back from ACFW conference -- but everytime I visit seekerville I feel like I'm attending my own litte mini conference!

  18. This book sounds great. Looking forward to reading it. Thanks for giving away a copy.

  19. Back again real quickly...

    Congrats on ALL the books too Vickie. Way to go!

    Meant to ask - where was the kibbutz? I was privileged to stay in Almog, near Qumran, for 3 weeks back in spring of '93.

    As usual, Vince asks great questions!

    And Amber - "Could that go with the idea of falling in love with someone who is (or becomes) your best friend? Because you would want to be comfortable with the person you marry, and humor goes along with that, right?"


  20. Oh, Vickie ... Gabriel's Atonement sounds WONDERFUL!! Can't wait to get into this series ... SOOOOO glad I picked up The Anonymous Bride in Indy, which the bookstore manager said was a great book!! After reading your other work, I have NO doubt!!

    Thanks for coming to Seekerville today, girl, and Happy Weekend, All!


  21. I love Tami Cowden's Heroes and Heroines book and I use it all the time. It really helps me plan my characters' personalities.

  22. Characters are really tricky, aren't they? I like to let my characters and the plot develop together, complement each other. I also think about birth order when I plan my characters.
    Great post, Vicki!

  23. Creating characters is my favorite part of writing. I love trying to figure out what makes them tick. I don't have that particular book about heroes and heroines, but it's on my to buy list. Maybe I'll have to push it higher on the list. :)

    Thanks for a great post!
    lisajordanbooks at yahoo dot com

  24. GREAT post and perfect for today!

    Just an FYI there is an experiment going on and 180 bloggers are writing on this very subject. I'm going to put a link and divert them here too :)

    The book sounds GREAT!! Have a good weekend everyone. I feel like apple picking and apple pie!

  25. That Hero and Heroine book sounds so helpful. I tend to get creative with my heroes but for some reason it seems my heroines are always the same kind of character--so I'm definitely ready to branch out. I love the Spunky Kid archetype!

  26. I'm a sucker for books on the craft of writing, and I've looked over that book but never bought it. You have me thinking about it again!

    Another favorite resource for developing characters is Michael Hague's The Hero's Two Journeys DVD.

  27. Hi, has anyone noticed that Blogger has changed this morning.

    On the formatting side, the inner workings.

    Dang! I'm going to have to learn new stuff. I HATE that.

    Great blog, Vickie. Thanks for being on. It was so fun to see you last week!!!!!!!!

    Vickie got her first contract at the ACFW conference from Barbour Publishing. Her name called out in front of 300+ cheering authors.
    The next year I got my first contract that way.

    Also Vickie has four sons and I have four daughters.

    We are like mirror images of each other.

    Sorry, Vickie. You're no doubt horrified to think of it. :)

  28. I love mail order bride stories. Just love 'em. And the modern day equivalent, the online bride story.

    Vickie, you're inspiring me into fun waters. Wonderful post.

    Oh my stars, I'm late today, and Helen's coffee ....

    Although OLD.... oh my word, woman, 12:41 AM Eastern Time.

    My coach turns into a pumpkin so I'm grateful for your late-nightedness. Very grateful!

    And I started this comment two hours ago...

    I need coffee.

    Vickie, thank you, what a pleasure to read your work in any way, shape or form!

  29. Great post! I'd love a chance to win your book.


    By the way, Don Knotts rocks! :-)

  30. Welcome to Seekerville, Vickie! I'm not familar with the book, but from what you say, I want a copy! If for no other reason than to see how the male and female archtypes clash and mesh. Great info for a writer! Thanks!

    I write historicals and love mail- order bride stories. Rejected mail-order brides hooks me big-time!


  31. Great post, Vickie! I have this book and love it too. Your books are wonderful with interesting characters and now we all know why.


  32. So good to see my ACFW chapter friend here in Seekerville! Great tips, Vickie, and yet another craft book I need to get my hands on!

    Loved The Anonymous Bride and can't wait to see what happens next in the series--especially when Jack grows up and falls in love! What a fun character!

  33. These were very helpful tips. Thanks Vickie!
    carrie (at) turansky (dot) com

  34. Vickie,

    Your books look like so much fun. The characters on the covers are sharing some kind of mischief for sure!

    Great advice. I'm just working on two new characters and will have to think of them in those archetype terms!

    Thanks for your help.

    sbmason (at) sympatico (dot) ca

  35. I agree with you, Vickie, about the archetypes. I find that book much easier to use for character development than any of the personality charts and profile tools others have recommended to me. Very Good break down of the archetypes, and I like the explanations of how you used them. Two thumbs up!


  36. I'm late in responding to some of your questions and apologize for that.

    Renee, It's been years since I've watched The Shakiest Gun in the West, but I remember how fun it was.

    Vince, I can't remember anything specific about humor in the archetypes, except for the Charmer, who laughs off most things. I have not written about living on a kibbutz, mainly because nobody wants a modern day story set in Israel, and also because that was 35 years ago and so much has changed since then. It was a cool experience.

    Cathy, I do sometimes switch things around to make the characters different. The thing I didn't touch on is that a person can be a cross between two archetypes. People are complex, and each person has a different back story, thus each character is different in how he reacts to the events around him.

    Hi Pepper. I know what you mean about a big TBR pile. Mine grew a bunch because of the conference. And sorry again, for the apptmnt confusion. I thought for sure my apptmt was 2:30 I hope yours went well.

  37. All this food is making me hungry. No fair, Sandra.

    KC asked where the kibbutz was. We lived at Kiryat Anavim for a year. It's a kibbutz about 11 miles from Jerusalem.

    Melanie, I agree. Birth order has a lot to do with how character react to situations.

    No, Mary, I'm not horrified. It seems many things in our lives have run on similar parrallels. It's nice to have other traveling on this odd writing journey too.

    I'm glad to see lots of familiar faces here. Waving to Julie, Myra, Rhonda, and Carrie.

  38. The archetype book sounds wonderful, thanks for bringing it to my attention,Vicki, and i will share this info w/my critique partners.

    You look so content sitting at that table w/all your books surrounding you, the quintessential author at a signing...I'm working at a sequel to a novel right now, and feeling as though my skills have improved, and I just MIGHT be "character arcing" this time around. Smile...

    Thanks for your encouragement, and I would LOVE to read more of your work.

    Gail Kittleson

  39. Your stories have totally piqued my interest! I love those which take place historically, and would love to be entered in the drawing for your new book! Thank you!

  40. Thanks for the information you gave us and I hope to use soon.
    I can't wait to read "Second Chance Brides". I love these stories and can't get enough.

    misskallie2000 at yahoo dot com

  41. so which book is going to have Leah and Gabriel? figures that's the one that caught my eye and I kept reading reviews on The Anonymous Bride and couldn't find their names then realized you were still writing that one!

    also do the Boardinghouse books go in order? If I read the 2nd book will couples from the first show up and bug me that I'm out of order?


  42. Susanna,

    The Texas Boardinghouse Brides books are best read in order, but they don't have to be. I wrote Second Chance Brides, book two, so that it would make sense to someone who hadn't read The Anonymous Bride, but it does continue Shannon and Leah's stories. The Corbett brothers are trying to fix the problem they created when they ordered their cousin too many brides. Book three, Finally A Bride, releases next April and is Jack's story (Rachel's tomboy daughter from books 1 & 2).

  43. ok thanks! I'll read in order!

  44. Awesome post Vickie. I loved The Anonymous Bride and look forward to reading Second Chance Brides.

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.