Saturday, March 27, 2010

Really Know Your Characters

This is a book sale. I hit it twice this weekend and came home with a lot more books than I needed.
But let's not look at this as a book sale. Let's visualize a character sale.

More than once I heard browsers call the book by the character's name instead of using the title of the book:

"Look, here's a Dave Robicheaux ." A James Lee Burke character.
or
"I found a Stephanie Plum!" A Janet Evanovich character.
or
"Here's a Sookie Stackhouse." A Charlaine Harris character.

What is it about these characters that make them so real to so many people? Well, my theory is... it's the little things.

My husband and I haven't read a Dave Robicheaux in years but tonight I asked him what he remembers about Dave. He said: "He poured Dr. Pepper over crushed ice."

I asked daughter to tell me something about Sookie and she answered. "In warm weather, she likes to shave her legs and sunbathe."

Do you see how insignificant these things are? Yet all these little things make up one heck of a character.

So think about the main character of your book and answer these questions:

What pictures hang on his/her wall?
What kind of mail does s/he get? From whom?
Is s/he addicted to chap stick or does s/he drink root beer with barbecue?
Can s/he change a flat, the oil in the car?
Does s/he wash the car or hire it done?
What kind of shampoo does s/he use?

We can't know too much about our characters--whether we use the info or not. The better we know them, the truer they come across in our books. I would love to be at a book sale and hear someone shout, "Wow, I found a Sas Maplewood!"

Yep, that's my series character. I know her well. Maybe one day you will too.

7 comments:

Jake Chambers said...

Jess...reading your article about knowing your characters...proves to me that there is no possible way that a fictional book from me is in my near future....however, I could certainly write one that covers factual folks I have been associated with from work or life in general... can you get writers insurance when you start writing about people's lives and the type of characters they are..???

SAAALute to you and the others that are capable, willing, slightly slanted towards fictional writing.... I may be more sane than I first imagined...just don't be jealous because I hear the voices and you don't....

Jess said...

Come on, Jake, you could pull together a novel. Characterization certainly isn't the hardest part of writing. I remember how much personality you gave that woodpecker you wrote about. :)

Seriously, if you have a glint of an idea for a novel, don't let anything discourage you.
Especially me!

Most of us write in layers. We don't just sit down and create fully blown characters. We add bits and pieces of personality, etc with every read-thru and rewrite.

All those weird people you know will work in a book--just change them to the point they don't recognize themselves.

Something funny: no matter what you write about, everyone you know will believe they're a character in your book whether they are or not. That's just the way it is. :)

Jess said...

Oh Jake... I DO hear voices. I really do. :-)

Erica Vetsch said...

Jess, do you do character interviews and worksheets? I'm always in such a hurry to start the book, I tend only to know the bare bones of characterization, what they want, and their economic/educational background.

Jess said...

No, Erica, I don't do all the worksheets, etc. I know some authors who do but I'm always anxious to get right into my story too. :) Funny how we all have our own methods -- and how they all seem to work! :) Just goes to show that there's more than ONE way to write a novel, huh?

Jan Rider Newman said...

You're so right. Terrific characters are memorable. When I think of my favorite books, it's the characters I remember. Leave it to a writer to see something about writing in every activity.

prashant said...

We add bits and pieces of personality, etc with every read-thru and rewrite.
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