Tuesday, January 12, 2010

"Real" Characters

This is cross posted at The Inkwell, ACFW Colorado blog.

We've all read books where the characters literally jump off the page and become real-life people. As a young reader, that was Anne Shirley, better known as Anne with an "e" of Green Gables. And not only Anne, but Marilla, Matthew, Gilbert, Diana, and everyone else who peopled the pages of L. M. Montgomery's books.

Since then I've read other books where the characters were so real, I've caught myself praying for them as they work through their troubles on the written page. (Blushing a little here.) And wondering how they are doing for days or weeks after finishing the book.

As a writer, I want to accomplish the same thing for my readers—characters so real the reader believes they are.

In my current wip, I've based my main characters loosely on my maternal grandparents. In fact, the original idea came when my mother told me how they met, how my grandmother literally ran away to New York City to avoid giving in to the marriage plans of her Christian "superiors," and how my grandfather eventually went after her and convinced her to marry him. The romance intrigued me. However, once I started brainstorming, my bent for mystery came to the forefront and now I have an historical romantic suspense with very little, except my characters, sticking to the facts as Mom gave them to me.

Except in my mind my main characters need to act and react as I remember my grandparents acting and reacting. So . . . how to make them real? Every time I sat down to work on fleshing out these characters, I felt blocked. I had a plot. I had characters, but even to me, they were flat. Cardboard cutouts.

After taking several Nangie clinics at the Colorado and Philadelphia writers conferences, I knew how Angie Hunt likes to use the Meiers-Briggs personality inventory to create her characters. But the book containing those personalities intimidated me.

Then Jeff Gerke came out with his Character Creation for the Plot-First Novelist. Since I had my plot first with this book, I checked it out. Complete with templates and questions to ask your character and the directed focus of the worksheet, it was an answer to this writer's prayer. And Jeff encourages the use of the Meier's-Briggs personality inventory. He also includes a short summary of each personality so I could narrow down my research to the few that seemed to fit my characters.

Now my characters are real to me. Which goes a long way toward making them real to my readers (which right now consists of my fabulous crit partners!). I highly recommend Jeff's book and template to help you develop your characters.

Have fun!

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