Writing well-developed characters is a true talent. When you write well-developed characters, your canvas of imaginary friends and foes comes to life. People “buy” into the idea of them and emotionally invest in them. They talk about them as if they were a friend or neighbor or associate. The first time someone talked about my heroine Brea Harper in California Girl Chronicles like she was a girlfriend, I was somewhat taken aback, but then I realized this reader had made the necessary emotional investment in this character.
So, how do you create well-rounded, interesting characters that readers will invest in? Here are some tips on how to do develop your characters.
Don’t rush anything — many new writers will not only hurry through their story-telling process, but also try and force their characters to life. What does this mean? They will try and develop the character by telling the reader all about the person in a paragraph through description. When you first introduce a character don’t force it. You can briefly describe the person, yes, but don’t falsely believe a paragraph or two and you’ve done the job.
Show it don’t say it — let the characters reveal themselves on the page by showing their behaviors. Put them in their places in the story and then have thembehave. Through their behavior you get to know them. For example, in California Girl Chronicles you have the flighty, mercurial Letty from the bikini shop. She is shallow, gum chewing, self-absorbed and colorful. Through her appearance (different colored hair and piercings), we gather she’s rebellious and then she acts rebellious and shallow at every turn.
Consistency — then make sure you keep your characters consistent. If Letty is shallow in one scene, she is not going to miraculously change her behavior to deep and caring in the next scene. Now if you intend to make her somewhat crazy and erratic then use this tool, but keep it in context and allow the characters around her to notice she is nuts. If you’ve been inconsistent with a character out of mistake or not realizing it then it’s an error and not planned.
Dialogue — what characters say matters as much as what they do. Use the dialogue to develop their attitudes and backgrounds. Remember, most people don’t talk in soliloquies and speeches. Use pedestrian language and keep it real. If a character is educated, use dialogue to show they have a vocabulary. If they’re urban, use the dialogue to show that background. You can also easily define characters by words they don’t use, too. If a character isn’t profane then you should avoid profanity being used by that particular character. If they have a dialect or accent, make sure you “imply” it and never misspell words to sound out the accent.
Fangirl pointed this out about not totally buying the idea of formulaic approaches to your writing of sexual tension in romance. I want to share that to a certain extent I do agree with this; however, you have some things in your writing you cannot get around. And you should know that while what I provided were pointers, you can work around them and play. Isn’t that really the “art” part? Here is what I do know, though, and this doesn’t completely apply to books. So, let me share some key points (all based on experience) about scripts AND books:
If you write a script in particular you do for the most part need to stick to expectations and try not to buck the rules too much. I had a very well-respected writer/producer reinforce this notion at my writers group, Writers Who Mean Business. He said by certain pages, readers at production offices/studios expect to see big “beats” in the script. He said these beat points need to show up on page 25, page 60-70 and the end. Now my memory may fail on the page 60-to-70 part. Also, studios expect your script to be no longer than 110-120 pages. Warner Bros. (I’ve been told) expects its scripts to be 90 pages. Can you break these rules? Yes, but it’s not advisable if you’re a new writer trying to break in. You’re putting obstacles in front of you right from the start, and I wouldn’t honestly want to make a challenging process any harder than it has to be.
The first 10 pages in books and script really, really count no matter how you look at it. I am a speaker and publisher, and I have seen all kinds of submissions. When it comes to formula, I know this one is practically impossible to get around. You better hit a home run in the first 10 pages or you’re out. I am super busy. I have no less than 6-8 projects running in parallel at all times. When I receive a submission, you get five solid minutes to impress me. If those first 10 pages or even 5 pages don’t make it, it’s passed on. And truthfully, I can tell in the first page. So, while you might want to go rogue with your work, this one just doesn’t work well for first impressions. But hey! Don’t let me ever tell you what to do if it’s in your heart that it’s a masterpiece. Go big and always dream BIG — and please don’t let anyone tell you not to.
You can’t break the rules if you don’t know the rules. Other authors and editors and readers will tell you it’s okay to play, but please know the rules are even broken. If you don’t want to subscribe to the ideas I put forth about writing something like sexual tension and you want to turn it on its ear, great! But you need to know exactly what did you just break away from? So, let’s say you’re not going to create any of the traditional notions of sexual tension, what would be your newly inspired idea about it? And let me point out, in the 12 steps to intimacy no one mentions touching fingers as a great teaser … yet in The Lover “that” was the great moment, tempting, teasing moment. Did the writer play with an idea and make us all hot while she did it?
Sometimes personal chemistry just trumps all. I would say so. I also (and I am admitting I am a HUGE Sookie/Eric fan from both the books and series) that I think, and this is only my opinion, that Sookie’s chemistry is way hotter with Eric. I haven’t analyzed the Bill relationship, so maybe I’m not being fair to the Bill/Eric fans; but the two actors make the relationship! The looks alone slay me. I love them even more in the books. Why? Because I like that Eric isn’t trying to control Sookie all of the time (that’s number one for me anyway). And in the series, for all of the reasons — the looks, the flirtations, the way Eric touches her when they do finally kiss and the way he seems to breathe her in … well, that might just be great acting and fabulous chemistry between two people on film. Sometimes people instinctively behave with each other in a way that is just, well, sexy.
All right! I hope you enjoyed this, and I have a book I need to edit now for 3L. If you enjoyed this little diatribe, please do reblog, discuss, and even email me. I’m open! I love hearing constructive feedback.
“Michelle Gamble-Risley has revolutionized romantic literature and taken it to new heights with this compelling character study, which is destined to be a critically-acclaimed, bestselling hit garnering a massive following from readers of all backgrounds.” ~ Victoria Andrew
When I set out to construct the story of Brea’s misadventures, I didn’t want to follow the typical romance story. I wanted to write something fresh and interesting that had more to do with women’s sometimes bad choices. I also wanted to create an intelligent, but misguided female protagonist who is both fun, interesting and entertaining. I wanted the book series to center around this compelling female lead and the men to be equally as interesting and not stereotypical and too easily definable. While Kale, our decent, caring producer, appears to be clearly defined in book one by book two, you will see the emergence of his complex flaws. I don’t want to give too much away. So stay tuned! Book two is already written and in production but not due out for another six to eight months. The focus right now is to build the following for the series and to develop the TV series; we want the series to go on HBO. So far that process is moving along quite well. I see it as being a nice bookend to the show Hung, as it’s Sex in the City meets Entourage.
California Girl Chronicles is available on Amazon and in eBook versions including Kindle, iBooks and Nook. It goes to bookstores in late winter 2012.
Oh, today’s fun story from Brea’s world. A young fan at my local day spa got so excited I was coming in today. She was eager to discuss California Girl Chronicles with me. She expressed a great deal of displeasure over our bad boy Drew’s treatment of our beloved Brea. She also made it clear she is a “Team Kale” fan (most people are … how could you not just love our silky, kind producer). The more she talked, the more I realized she had emotionally vested in the book so much that she was talking about the characters like close friends. You know you’ve done a good job when people lose sight of the fact this your book is a work of fiction! California Girl Chronicles is on sale on Amazon in soft cover, Kindle, Nook and iBook. Enjoy! And make friends!