Monday, June 2, 2014

Characters Make the Story

In the last couple of weeks, I've been participating in several blog "rolls", hosted by some of my fellow authors.  What we do is answer a set of questions, usually about our writing process.  One question comes up almost regularly in every set and, though it may be worded differently, it has to do with characters.

Do characters drive your stories? How did you create your characters? Are your characters based on real-life people? And the all-important, what do you see as your greatest strength as an author?

The answer to that last question lies within the answers to the previous ones: characters are my greatest strength. In fact, my characters come to life long before my story line does. It may seem hard to believe, but the truth is that my characters could have been in a romance novel, a coming-of-age novel, a literary novel, just about any story you could imagine (Science fiction? Why not?) But it was as a result of my love for mysteries that Corrie, Rick, and J.D., along with the rest of the characters that populate Bonney County, happen to end up solving mysteries.

Characters drive my stories. What I mean by that is, I care about my characters and I want to know what is going to happen to them, what they are going to do, and how their actions and reactions affect their lives and the lives of those around them. When a character comes to mind, it's as if I'm meeting a new person for the first time. Will this person become a friend? Can I trust this person? Do I want to spend time with him or her?  If the answer is "yes" then, as time goes on and stories grow and develop, so do my characters.  Just as you can't know everything about a person the first time you meet them, it takes time for a character to develop fully. My characters sometimes surprise me with their backstories, their faults, their strengths, their quirks, their opinions, their actions, and sometimes I know exactly what they will do and say and sometimes they surprise me in that way as well. Just like the friends and acquaintances I have in real life, so do my characters reveal themselves and grow and develop as I spend more time with them.

Sometimes the answer to the first two questions is "no": I neither want this person for a friend nor do I trust them.  But I still want to spend time with him or her and... my antagonist is born. And though that antagonist is sometimes gone by the end of the book (it's a murder mystery, after all), I still know a lot more about that particular person or character than actually makes it to the printed page. If I can't feel something for the character, whether it's affection, admiration, irritation, or outright loathing, then that character will be flat, uninteresting, and definitely not alive on the page.

We all come in contact with various people in our daily life, many of them friends or loved ones, and many more strangers.  And just like real "live" people either stand out in your mind or are easily overlooked, characters either connect with the reader or they are forgotten. I've been fortunate that many readers have taken the time to tell me how much my characters have engaged them and I feel that I, as a writer, have succeeded. I have introduced my characters to my readers and they seem to be getting along great.

What more can an author ask for?
Characters are conceived in the mind and are born here.

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