No matter what you have been told, authors rarely start working on a character from a story with a blank slate. There is always some bit to start with. Maybe gender, because you write F/F or M/M, is predetermined. Maybe you like writing about Vikings or Highlanders. Maybe Billionaires are your sweet spot. And maybe a strong woman in a scary situation is the main part of your story.
I’ll talk about this more in the future, but I received a very nice Thanks But No Thanks on my Contemporary Romantic Thriller submission. What they want to see me fix and resubmit has to do with the characters. The plot was fresh, the story fast-paced, the humor enjoyable. GO, me!
My heroine, Valerie, had lost her husband, her son, and her unborn child in an automobile accident. She had almost lost her life, and in the days to come she often wished she did die with them. As a writer, conveying that tragedy and how it impacted her life got in the way of the story. Working the two together is my goal.
According to MJ Bush at WritinGeekery, I need to discover my character’s theme to be able to find her “values, fears, desires, strengths and flaws.” That sounds like work, but if I am asking people to publish my novel and more people to read it, then it’s worth working at.
What does Valerie value? Your average American home life, husband, kids, a home with a tree house in the back yard. She fears she will never find that again. She desires to have it all show up on her doorstep so she doesn’t have to leave her house to find it. Her strengths include being steady in the face of crazy stuff going on and opening her heart easily when she thinks she can save others. Her flaws include using food to smother feelings she doesn’t want to deal with and not believing in herself.
Where in there do I show how devastated she was after learning to walk again that her family had been ripped away from her? I never dealt with her physical scars or possible limitations she might have. That’s a lot for me to work with, right there.
My hero, Adam, has gone to prison and released, lost his wife to suicide and son to the custody of a relative. His first meeting with the boy is low-key because Adam, Jr., called AJ, barely remembers his father. Should Adam cry? His values are to find the real criminals and see that justice is done. Also won’t hurt if he gets his fortune back. His fears are that justice is unobtainable and that his actions will harm his loved ones. His desires are to have Valerie in his life and to make a better life for AJ. His strengths are computer hacking skills, a sense of humor, and a driving need for a resolution and reversal of his conviction. His flaws are being too trusting of people and letting his passion for Valerie run away with his common sense.
There’s a baseline for me to start reshaping these folks. I don’t need “plot puppets” as MJ Bush calls poorly defined characters. There is a lot more to learn at the site and I hope you get a chance to look it over. Thanks for reading, I’ll be back on Thursday.