Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Your Characters are People

by Becky Martinez

One of my worst writing habits (and I have many) is working on a number of projects at the same time. I’ve  always been so excited to start a new story and then before long I find myself with a new story idea and I want to go to work on it immediately. Since I seldom plot much in advance of the writing process, it’s not hard to do. If I come up with a character and a scene I start to write it.
Last week my sister asked if that confuses me. She wanted to know how I kept my characters from all sounding alike.
The next day, while attending the Colorado Romance Writers Tea for Readers, I mentioned that comment to the writers and readers at my table. And the answer just seemed to come to me. I see all my characters so distinctly I can’t imagine them all sounding alike. I could gather them all in a room, in a group just like we were in and I could see them all as distinctive people.

So how do you turn them into people rather than characters on the page?
Interview them. I’ve often suggested this to writers. Spend a few hours asking your characters who they are and what they remember of their past. Every character has a past, a family (or if not, a reason for not having one) Ask them about their memorable moments and their biggest successes and failures. Ask them what they want out of life beyond just their goals in your story.

Take them some place and see how they react. For instance, I could see Bonita, the young mother, from my book Home Fires Burning being very at home at an event such as the elegant tea I attended on Saturday. I could see her chatting at the table, talking about her home and her son, Teddy, with pride. On the other hand, I could see my character, Connie, from my book, Deadly Messages, constantly finding a reason to get up and move around the room. She would want to meet everyone at the table immediately and then move on to meet others as well. She likes to stay on the move. My character, Stacey, from Shadows from the Past, would be less comfortable. She would be friendly, but constantly worried she was going to spill her tea and if you told her to look to her left, she might easily look to the right. She might even be late because she got lost.

Spend a day with them. Each character would want to do something different. My character, Amber, from Love on Deck, would definitely want to go to a baseball game, while my newest character, Kimberly from my next book, Blues at 11, would insist on a spa, while Bonita might want to go for a horseback ride around her Colorado ranch.
Listen to them.  The speech patterns for your characters will be different too. My character Connie is going to talk faster than the rest while I know Stacey is just going to bubble over with enthusiasm whenever she talks, even if she says things that she wishes she hadn’t. In my next book, Dead Man's Rules, I have two cousins, Cere and Freeda, but I still worked hard to separate they way they talk so that readers can pick out each one in conversation. Cere is more serious, while Freeda is fun and flighty. I got halfway through writing that book before I knew I just had to write Freeda's story, which is almost finished.

Do all these female characters sound like they might be my friends?  I’ve often said that I always enjoy my characters. The women might be someone I could enjoy (and sometimes want to strangle)
And these are just the women. I do the same with the men too. The men are guys I might alternately love and hate. But I’d like to take everyone of them home.  I can’t expect my character friends to fall in love with them if I can’t.

All these characters are why I find it easier to write different stories at one time. As I told those at the tea, if I want to spend a day shopping and have light-hearted fun, I would chose to go shopping with Kimberly. If I want a steady pal I can tell my troubles to, I would tell them to Lisa, who helped out Connie in Deadly Messages and whose story I am now also writing. Whatever story I feel like writing, it’s just a matter of getting in touch with my character friends
If you get to know who your characters are, they will become more distinct in your head and that should make them more alive for your readers.

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