What do I know about my characters that you don’t?
Joining us for coffee today is one of my favorite writers, Georgia Rose. Her intellectual thrillers are uniquely character-driven, allowing devoted readers (well, this devoted reader anyway!) to think of her characters as friends I’ve known well enough to care deeply about.
If I was still living in Virginia, the proper move would be to invite my new friends to my church. In Illinois, I’d bring them hotdish when they were feeling poorly. In California we’d meet to walk along the beach and watch the sunset over the ocean. Here in the UK, I’d buy the next round at the pub and maybe even add them to my Christmas card list—eventually. On the web, of course, I’d just invite them—and all of you—to join me for coffee.
I was a bit sad when I finished reading the last book of the Grayson Trilogy: I felt like these wonderful friends were moving away. Sure I could see them again, but it’s not the same as when sharing their adventures. Luckily, Georgia says she’s making notes for her new set of characters. I can’t wait to meet them!
So as November eases into winter, please pour a cup of your beverage of choice. I’ve saved you a toasty chair in front of the fireplace, right next to Georgia Rose as she tells how she develops those unforgettable characters.
(And at the end, let’s talk about some of those character development questions. I’ll show you mine if you show me yours!)
Characters To Kill For?
Guest Post By Georgia Rose
I’m watching Breaking Bad at the moment, not literally of course, but you know what I mean. I’m behind the curve on this as I am with most things on the television. I rarely remember to record shows so mostly miss everything then play catch up months years later when everyone else is raving about them. My point—and you’ll be relieved to find I do have one—is that this series takes a character, for this example I’ll use Walter White, from one thing, a mild mannered Chemistry teacher in a local school with a steady life, wife, son, another child on the way to something very, very different. I won’t give any spoilers here just in case there is anyone left on this good green earth that hasn’t seen it yet.
However there is more to it than that because at various points of the series we’re made to feel different things for Walt and other characters so that we find ourselves caring about what happens to them. It’s not always the ‘good guys’ that we’re rooting for either and our feelings change as the episodes roll through so we’re left sometimes thinking the opposite of what we did earlier and although I know that TV programmes have the added advantage of the actors input this level of feeling for characters comes down to having good writing at the foundation of the show.
So how do you write a character that readers care about? Or, that another character will kill for?
I’d like to thank Barb for asking me to write this guest post and I hope her faith in me is not misplaced because I feel that I am the least qualified person to talk about anything to do with writing. However as it’s turned out it appears I have written characters that people do seem to care for. So here’s my view of the subject of their development.
There are two stages in the building of my cast. The first happens a long time before I ever hit the first keystroke on my aging computer. Put simply my ‘people’ live with me for a while. I have written the romantic and highly suspenseful Grayson Trilogy, and Emma Grayson, from whose point of view I have written it, and her cohorts from the fictional setting of the Melton Estate developed over a period of time. Initially shadowy pencil sketches the more I thought about them the more they grew, becoming defined and rich in colour as they fleshed out in my head until they were as real as… well as real people, with their own thoughts and feelings.
Once you know who you’re writing about then you know how they’ll react in any given situation. When I write I put myself inside Emma’s skin and think very carefully about how realistically she is behaving and talking. I’m very keen on characters staying true to themselves and really dislike it if I’m reading a book where someone says or does something that just doesn’t ring true or that surprises me. I immediately lose my belief and that’s what this writing malarkey’s all about isn’t it? To get the reader to suspend their disbelief and believe the unbelievable.
What you want is for someone to understand your characters so well that when you put them in a crazy situation rather than being surprised that reader just goes ‘yeah she would totally behave like that.’
Character development for me has little to do with what they look like. I prefer to lightly paint in physical characteristics just to give readers a nudge in the right direction then the rest is up to their imagination. When Barb and Linda Huber met recently for a natter over coffee (see post here), Linda wrote that when she builds her characters she likes to come up with ten things about them that the reader will never know. I like that. However it does require you to actually write something down about the characters in the first place, which I have never done. I always imagined I’d have a notebook with detailed descriptions of each character and possibly little sketches of them as well (I have no idea why I thought this as I can’t draw for toffee) anyhow it didn’t work like that with these first books.
However with the next thing I write it’s going to be very different. To cut down on the amount of crazy that happened last time I’m going to do a lot more planning and I am going to make notes on my characters. Famous last words I know, because if the burning desire to just write takes over me again then all notebooks will be tossed aside.
The second stage of development takes place through the story. If you’re writing anything of any length, and particularly if the story is told over a decent period of time, then I feel there should be some sort of development of at least your main characters so that you show how the challenges you have set them through the story have changed their lives for better or worse. I think of it as an arc where you know what they are like at the beginning and have an idea how you want them to be at the end then you just need to plan the smooth transition from one state to the other through the story. I realise it’s not as easy as that, it takes time, a lot of editing and re-writes and I also use other input to help me out. Once written the draft goes to my beta readers and one of their instructions is that I need to know if any of the characters does or says anything that surprises them at any point. I also read the draft aloud. You would be surprised how unrealistic things and particularly dialogue can sound when you hear it actually spoken.
Because of the whole lack of planning thing I mentioned earlier I didn’t really think too much about actually writing the story before I launched into it and have therefore had to write things I wasn’t expecting to. I honestly intended it to be a lot more light-hearted than it turned out but when I put Emma through a particularly terrible time in her back story everything changed. There are flashbacks to that which I ended up covering in depth because I felt it was necessary for the reader to experience Emma’s emotions. You want to show the reader the pain your character is going through not just tell them and I defy anyone to read chapter 2 of A Single Step and not feel something. It’s pretty hard after putting your character through that for the reader not to then emphasise with them and the same goes for those that surround her in the story. Once you’ve made your ‘real’ people they will react just as any of us would with friendship, with support, and occasionally…just occasionally with a need to kill in order to protect…
Many thanks for inviting me onto your wonderful blog Barb, I feel honoured to be here.
Note from Barb: Thanks so much Georgia! I’d love to know what you’ll be asking your new characters in those notes you’ll be making just before you go on to torture them.
For my part, I usually have a list of things I try to find out about characters before I ever start on their stories. Most of those things never make it into my books. It’s a long list—well over a hundred questions—and pretty funny for a confirmed pantser like me. When I’m writing a new book, here are some things I like to know about my characters:
- What do you know about this character now that s/he doesn’t yet know?
- How does this character take his/her coffee?
- What music does this character sing to when no one else is around?
- What would this character say is his/her biggest problem, and what would s/he say is the solution to that problem? [note: not necessarily the solution that the author would write for them!]
- Describe this character’s most embarrassing moment.
- Describe this character’s bedroom. Include three cherished items.
- If this character had to live in seclusion for six months, what six items would s/he bring?
- What wakes this character in the middle of the night?
- What does this character resolve to do differently every morning?
- If this character knew s/he had exactly one month to live, what would s/he do?
How about you? Do you make character sheets? If so, what are some of the questions you ask about your characters?
The books that make up the Grayson Trilogy are:-
A Single Step – currently only 99p/99c to download as an ebook from all these places:-
Universal link for A Single Step at Amazon:- getbook.at/ASingleStep
Smashwords: – https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/394505
Before the Dawn
Universal link for Before the Dawn at Amazon:- getbook.at/BeforeTheDawn
Thicker than Water – today is the last day that this ebook will be 99p/99c
Universal link for Thicker than Water at Amazon:- getbook.at/ThickerThanWater