Monday, December 12, 2011

Your Best Character

Happy Monday, everyone!

I'm not exactly sure what it is, but my current WIP, Cyberlama, is somehow giving me more opportunity to develop strong characters than my past projects have done. I think, before, my story structures were so complicated and dependent on the details that my characters ended up being slaves to the story. They had to be a certain way for things to logically hold together. With Cyberlama I have more freedom because the plot is simpler; there aren't as many moving pieces.

As a result, I've gotten to spend the last few days really shaping my book's villain, and I've been having a lot of fun.

So I'm wondering which of your characters is your favorite and how did you develop them? What makes them a strong character, in your opinion?

Also, is anyone else watching The Next Iron Chef? It is so stressful!


  1. Hmmm, I'd have to go with Chase Montgomery, my heroine in the first crime novel I've written (and only, so far). She's strong and confident, despite a hellish childhood. She knows exactly what she needs to do and isn't afraid to do it.

  2. I wrote a villain that I hope was pretty Dickensian.

    He was truly loathsome and distasteful to think/write about but I might be proudest of him because he's absolutely nothing like me.

  3. I know what you mean about having a complicated plot determine who the characters are. In my first couple of books, the plot and the characters were all pieces of each other, locked tightly together and working as a unit, more or less. Characters were more types than individuals in a lot of ways.

    With my last book I had a bunch of support characters without a lot to do in terms of plot, and I gave each of them a long sort of character study where I examined their flaws, basically, and had them thinking about the central difficulty of their lives. I'm not sure how well those bits integrate with the main plotline.

    My current book is almost all character exploration. There is not much in the way of plot; that's how I know I'm writing Literature, I guess. There's no hero or villain, either. Essentially I've got nothing but who people are and how they relate to each other, which is maybe where I've been trying to get to the whole time I've been writing but until now I didn't know how to write a novel-length story that will support that sort of character study.

    Anyway, for now my favorite character is Patience, the detective from my last book. What makes her a strong character (in the sense of "powerful narrative element" as opposed to "brave") is that she's difficult and conflicted and her personality has sharp points and every scene she's in goes in a different direction than you'd think it would go. So I suppose that in a way she's sort of the stereotypical "outsider" so I'm writing a cliche. Huh.

  4. April, Confidence is something I always admire in a character. I've been writing about more confident people lately--they're so different from what I usually create.

    Cynthia, that's a good point. I'm usually most proud of the people who are most different from me too. It feels like a bigger test.

    Scott, "Characters were more types than individuals in a lot of ways." Yes, I feel like I get myself into this situation a lot. I thought Patience is a great character, but both Cocke and Bull are great characters to me too. Your characters are more memorable than mine, in general, but I'm working on getting better. Watch out!

  5. My own favorite character is Georgina Pruitt (from my fantasy novel, "Immortal Quest"), who started out as a humorous support player into whom I gleefully incorporated a few my own personality quirks. But by the end of the book, she'd developed into a fully-fledged character who contributed a lot to the story.

    After the book came out, I got asked occasionally by people who know me well if Georgina was autobiographical. Well, as I said, she partly was, and I love those parts (though they are exaggerated, I'm *quite* certain). But I adore her even more for becoming more than comic relief, and for becoming a character I truly cared about, regardless of how much of "me" was in her.

    -Alex MacKenzie

  6. I'm having an immense amount of fun creating the protagonist for my first draft of a WIP right now. She's 14, a borderline genius, and rather neurotic. Lots of fun.
    I guess my favorite character, though, would be one from a YA novel that's in the final editing stages right now. This character has so many layers of personality that he's impossible to label as "good" or "bad." In fact, since he comes from totally outside the modern era in which I've placed him, he has a completely different system of ethics than the other characters, which causes some friction. He is, however, true to his own beliefs.
    Yes, if I could spend an afternoon with any of the characters I've created, I believe I'd choose that latter one.

  7. I think my favorite character so far is Lady Olivia Leighton. A fiesty old broad, too progressive for her time. She's not afraid to speak her mind to anyone, doesn't give a damn she's not a man, and just basically tells everyone what do do whether asked her opinion or not.

    She's also very loving, and sentimental, is a champion of the meek and downtrodden and will give you the shirt off her back.

    She's also having a secret affair with her butler, and for a dowager duchess in 1810, she's pretty snappy.

    Love love love her to pieces.

  8. Stress over a cooking show? Hmm . .

    I think it can be very freeing to allow your characters a little flexibility as you write them. When you have this, strait line between beginning and end, then there is no room for the unexpected "oh, I didn't think of that" from the author.

    I think our stories, and our characters, start out pretty one dimensional; a concept with potential that is only fully realized through the writing journey.

    I have a favorite character in my women's fiction. Cal - Calvin. He started out a serious bad guy, not someone you'd ever want to invite to your home, much less marry. At least, in the short story version he started out in.

    But as I started filling in character details, and the story expanded, I discovered that there was a lot more to him than his addiction and gang involvement.

    Cal is still a very bad, bad man. But as his character has developed within the story, he is also someone the reader can understand, and (hopefully) love. You'll still hope he gets arrested, and that his wife sees reason and leaves him. But if I did my job well, you'll be frustrated Cal won't change.

    Before any of that could happen, I had to let go of the rigid mold I'd tried to force him into.

    Sounds like you're allowing both your characters, and yourself as an author, to look at all the possibilities instead of just the original concept. And it sounds like you are enjoying the writing of this story.


  9. In my current project, an alien initially created as a background character, quickly became a central player in the story, and the most interesting character of all. I must constrain her because the story is not about her, yet she keeps trying to take control.

    Writing this character revealed information about her that I never envisioned. Her emotional scars make her fascinating. She has many issues. For example, we learn that when she was a child, wild animals killed her mother and twin sister, and almost killed her. Then in the course of this story, the Dragon tries to eat her. She has an awful attitude problem after that incident.

    She is emotionally broken, which makes her ripe for maximum change during the course of a story. She will be the protagonist of my next book series. In that series, her elders send her on an epic journey with two Dragons and a human. She blames the human for the death of her cousin; therefore, she hates him. One of the Dragons is the one who tried to eat her. She hates him. While the first Dragon has learned not to eat her, the second Dragon wants to eat her. She hates that Dragon, as well. Problem is she is the Rider for the second Dragon. She is not happy, but she is duty bound. During the course of the story, she changes dramatically.

    Working with my characters, I am often surprised and sometimes shocked by the things I learn. Such revelations are one aspect of creative writing that makes the activity addictive. Give me more. I cannot live without it.

    I recently mentioned the above character development on my blog (Sometimes Minor Characters Become Major Characters).

    P.S. I am not watching The Next Iron Chef. I am busy getting my dopamine fix by writing.

  10. Alex, One of my best characters originally had a really minor role in Rooster and readers were just drawn to him. I think I give myself permission to up the volume on side characters, and that makes them more interesting. That's cool that your character had some of you in her. Whenever I do that the character ends up pretty boring. Let's not get into what that says about me.

    Lisa, your misplaced characters sounds really interesting. I like those complex people who can't be classified very easily. They can also occasionally drive me mad. :)

    Anne, ha! Lady Olivier sounds great! I can tell how passionate you feel about her!

    Donna, Cal sounds really interesting. I tried (and failed) to write a character like that when I was working on Rooster. I had a really hard time getting readers to care about him even though they could understand him. I'll probably learn something from reading Cal! And, yes, my characters definitely unfold as I write them. I let them go on side trips and it's almost always informative.

    Lester, you seem quite passionate about your alien too! Thanks for letting us learn so much about her. I like that tension of having to be with a Dragon that wants to eat her. As a reader, I think it would be cool to read one book with a side character that becomes a main character of a second book.

  11. Oooh... this is tough...

    My favourite character would have to be Julian, the hero in my current 6 book WIP. That's mostly because he's been with me the longest, I think.

    He's an incredibly powerful sort of man, but prone to brooding, has a terrible temper, and is terrified of his own power. He's not terribly sound of mind.

    To be honest, it's a mess up there. I'll be very pleased when this series is finished and I can get out of his head!

  12. My best character would have to be Truth because that's what he is, the personification of truth. That's his strength, the fact that he knows the truth about everyone and everything but because he's only the truth none of the horrible things he knows about humans shock him. The hard thing about developing a character like that is making sure they don't have an agenda that they only speak the truth or say nothing.

  13. Hmmm, I'd have to go with Aeline, so far, from SCALES. She's deliciously driven by good motivations, but bad outcomes. She is what makes that book, I think, and it's definitely not because of plot driving it. I was afraid it would be because it's based on a fairy tale driving where the plot has to end up. Happily, she has turned out so dynamic that she is making everything churn forward in an intense way.


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