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Developing Characters

I recently had a conversation with my buddy Bobbi about where my characters come from. The answer? Everywhere.


They usually start as an inspiration from someone I knew or have met. I need to add another thought here - a fellow author recently lamented he needed to make sure his characters had their own thoughts and not reflections of his. To quote him during his editing process, "I'm struck today by noting the difference between MY voice vs. the CHARACTER'S voice." I hear ya, buddy.


I wrote a character once based on a "bad friend." Unfortunately, I'd written her as my heroine's best friend. People commented. They didn't like her. I'd given this friend too many of my bad friend's attributes and not enough good friend attributes. I did manage to tone her down in that book - LIVING CANVAS - and then decided I needed to give her her own book to address the unlikeability. Find out WHY she was so unlikeable. This is also where I point out she was "based on" and not a direct characterization of a person. Moving on, I made Cinda her own person, no longer "based on." In RETURN TO HOFFMAN GROVE, people got a different look at Cinda. She has a VERY strong personality, but her friends aren't afraid to call her out on it when she gets out of line. She needed a very strong hero, another characterization I borrowed from real life and added artistic license to. The resulting characters are much different from the original models.


In future books, I often got stumped on my characters - why they acted the way they did and the undeveloped parts of their personalities. To "round them out," I looked up enneagrams and used a method my editor recommended to me that provides personality traits, how they're developed, what makes someone respond the way they do, the good, the bad, the redeeming, the damning. The book and the process it offers have helped me multiple times.


The other thing to consider is that each character needs an arc. They have to evolve from one thing to something else. I'm writing my third Elspeth Barclay novel. She had to face her fears in Book 2, and in this one, I've had to give her a new challenge. However, she was whiny about some things in Book 1, which escalated in Book 2 (this woman is neurotic, I'm telling you!), and in this book, she's absolutely driving me crazy with all the whining. She doesn't like change, and she's being bombarded by it. I almost feel sorry for her, except I'm tired of listening to her complain. With that being said I'm hoping to tone her down a tad before she reaches you guys, but in the meantime, she's making me nuts! The goal here is to develop her arc. Among these changes is one that will settle her neuroses. She isn't alone in this anymore. This, too, is an example from real life. 


Once upon a time, I knew someone who was very insecure. (Elle isn't insecure, but some of her responses are similar.) That person was difficult and responded poorly in certain situations, but they reached a crossroads and made a life change that transformed them. I'm hoping to use that same sort of situation to calm Elle down. 


Have you read a book with a character that annoyed you? Were you able to stick around until the character found their way to being sympathetic?

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