Excerpt -- Opening scene in
The Elements of Love, quick character sketches
They were running away from the threat of misery, pain, degradation.
And running straight toward
danger, deadly danger.
Margaret Stiles chose danger.
What’s more, she chose it for
her daughters and prayed without ceasing that she’d chosen right.
worse, the girls had to face that danger alone. Going back by herself was the
only way to be sure the girls made their escape.
In silence, she and her three
daughters slipped into the night.
She waited until they were
far enough from the house no wandering servant, absently looking out the window
in the night, could see.
she lagged behind her rushing daughters, her beloved, precious girls. Clouds
scuttled across the sky. The dew-damp grass around the house ended in a dense
forest. As soon as the forest swallowed them up, she stumbled and fell. Well,
truth was, she stopped running, sat down and cried out in pain. Softly. She
most certainly didn’t want Edgar to hear, though he drank enough, he usually
whirled around and rushed back, Jillian a step behind. Michelle brought up the
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Laura, her sweet, compassionate child. The blue-eyed blonde who was a fine-boned, feminine version of her father, Liam Stiles. Laura, who knew how to blow things up.
Jillian, the one with the
oddly mathematical mind who made theories work. She’d been educated to build
trestles across vast gorges, and build railroad tracks into the heart of a
mountain. A fiery green-eyed red-head, a throw-back to her papa’s Irish
Michelle the leader, the calm
one who took charge of the sweet Laura and the fiery Jillian, and they mostly
let her. Michelle the mechanical engineer who saw all the details and made
everything and everyone work together. And in her spare time, she worked with
machines, mechanisms to help the girl’s future project excel. She already had
two patents with plans for a dozen more, if she could just get the ideas in her
head to become reality. Michelle was the oldest, the brunette with the shining
blue eyes who looked most like her mama.
what happened?” Laura dropped to her knees on Margaret’s right.
I spent a while trying to figure out how to talk about
characters. Putting into words something that’s just inherently hard to put
Characters need to be three dimensional. And it’s hard
for me to really explain what brings them to life.
These are my five steps. The first is the simplest.
Make a character
likeable by making someone like them
Give them quirks
My main character types
Avoid backstory dumps
This month I’m talking about
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Make a character likeable by making someone like them. This is possibly the single best piece of advice I ever got as a beginning writer. It’s a simple sentence but when you‘re doing it, it really affects your writing. Often, we want a character at the beginning of the book who has problems, who is resistant to love, who is immature or angry or in some way needs to change her life. Something she has to change about herself. This is at the heart of the character arc. But to make a character difficult we can risk making her (or him) unlikeable and that’s going to be a book no one continues reading. Who wants a main character they don’t like?
So the act of making someone like them, changes the way
your write your character. Jerks don’t have good friends, or at least their
friends are also jerks. They don’t hug their old, worn-out teddy bear. They
don’t have a faithful dog. If you give them a loyal friend, you have to write a
character who is responding to that friend in a likeable way. Make a character
likeable by making someone like them is a simple statement that really makes
you change your character.
The Element of Love
Coming March 2
With their sharp engineering minds, Laura Stiles and her two sisters have been able to deal with their mother's unfortunate choice in husband until they discovered his plans to marry each of them off to his lecherous friends. Now they must run away--far and fast--to find better matches to legally claim their portion of their father's lumber dynasty and seize control from their stepfather.
During their escape, Laura befriends a mission group heading to serve the poor in California. She quickly volunteers herself and her sisters to join their efforts. Despite the settlement being in miserable condition, the sisters are excited by the opportunity to put their skills to good use. Laura also sees potential in Caleb, the mission's parson, to help with gaining her inheritance. But when secrets buried in Caleb's past and in the land around them come to light, it'll take all the smarts the sisters have to keep trouble at bay.