Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Characters Welcome

Hello, I’m Susan Palmquist and I’ll be blogging every third Wednesday of the month. As this is my first post, here’s some information about me. I’m a freelance writer and created and run my own Web site called The Budget Smart Girl’s Guide to the Universe www.budgetsmartgirl. It was recently named one of the top 6 money sites to watch in 2009 by U.S. News World Report. I’m also the new blogger over at Between The Lines, and I’m the published author of three novels. A Sterling Affair, a paranormal romance published by The Wild Rose Press, Death Likes Me, a mystery published by Hearts on Fire Books and a children’s novel that previously won The Loft Children’s Literature Award and it’s also published by Hearts on Fire Books. If you want to see the covers of the books and read some excerpts stop by my Web site

Jenny said we could talk about anything to do with romance and writing and for some reason, characterization popped into my head.

Think about a book you really enjoyed reading…one that was almost impossible to put down.
Now ask yourself was it the plot that you liked best, or did you love it because one or more of its characters held your attention?

I’m taking a guess here, but I’d say 99% of you answered characters.

Yes, a good plot’s vital to any book and all genres, but unless you create at least one character the reader can identify with, having the most wonderful plot in the world won’t have as much impact.

If you keep up on TV ratings and what shows got the axe, you might have read that other than the CBS show, The Mentalist, there’ve been no breakout shows this season. If the TV executives are scratching their heads wondering why and what when wrong, here’s a tip, create shows with more memorable characters.

So, as a writer how can you create a memorable character?

Give Them a Past
Most great characters have something in their past that’s not only shaped who they are, but dictates their future too, and maybe even gives them some of the little quirks readers love so much.

As most of us watch TV, I’ll use two characters from popular shows as examples. Adrian Monk, whose wife was killed by a car bomb, he’s not only trying to find her killer, but trying to get back on the force. Oh, and he’s got phobias about everything out there which often hinders his everyday activities.

And there there’s Gregory House M.D. He walks with a cane, is addicted to painkillers and despite being a brilliant doctor is a complete pain the butt to his fellow workers and patients. These are both interesting characters, they’ve got baggage and we want to know more about them, hence we tune in each week to see what’s going to happen to them.

In my mystery, Death Likes Me, I knew I wanted to make it part of a continuing series so I had to give my main character, former detective Niki Webber some issues to deal with. And boy, did I give this poor character lots of stuff to ‘deal with’ She’s only 38 and a widow. She’s been shot and nearly died. Oh, and let’s not forget, she’s guilt ridden because she thinks she might have wanted to end her life and hence the reason she let her guard down and got shot. And let’s not forget that when she was shot, her partner had to shoot and kill a teenage boy who had no prior police record.
Give Your Character a Problem Everyone can Relate To
Okay, you might be thinking well, not everyone’s been shot in the line of duty and caused the death of a teenager, but guilt is a universal feeling. Losing a spouse is something many people have faced or will face, and you can even relate to House because we all know what it’s like to be in pain.

Give Them A Future
When the book comes to a close, make the reader feel like cheering or taking a deep breath because the character is okay, and if it’s series character, make them wanting more. Get them to the point where they can’t wait for your next book to hit the stores.


Anonymous said...

Great post!

Characters can make or break a story. EEk, I will never forget this one film i saw. The hero was a drunk, abusive, petty thief who was mean to his mom and sister. Flaws might lend realism but he should have something likable about him, he's the hero for pete sake!

When you think of all the great shows, scrubs, star trek, friends, they are all about relationships and how the characters interract is as important as the plot.
talk to your characters, let them roam, give them a place to play and they will reveal much about themselves.

Sally_Odgers said...

Oddly (maybe) it's writing style that draws me back to a book more often than not. The best plot or the best characters in the world can't save it for me if I don't find the style congenial. Most people who are good stylists are also good at character drawing, so these two aspects often come together. However, I can think of lots of books with great characters and style and no discernable plot.

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