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Friday, October 14, 2011

Creating Characters that Come Alive


We writers know our story circles around three things: plot, setting, and character. I’d like to talk about character. I know you have heard a dozen different ways to create characters, but how about one more time, only with a different take on them?

First, let me say what character isn’t. It isn’t a person’s favorite color, or favorite food, or hair or eye color.

Character is how a person reacts to life and the reasons behind the character’s choices. Here are a few examples. Do they keep their promises? Are they gossips? Will they help someone with no expectation of thanks or reward? Are they loyal to friends? Are they the type that drops a friend to move into the in-crowd?

So how do we get there? All I can do is tell you how I get there. Let me warn you, you’ll probably say, “Oh, my God, that’s too much work.” However, it saves me one or two rewrites and I don’t have to learn my characters’ voices.

I also do two write-ups on the hero, heroine, secondary characters, and villains. If someone is dead but will impact the story or a major player’s life, I write one.

So, what do I do? I write a first person autobiography on each person from their earliest years to age twenty-five. Why twenty-five? Because a person’s knee-jerk, gut reactions, the ones that we hide but determine our behavior—78% to 80% are formed by the age of the twelve, the remainder are formed by age twenty-five. I have to modify this for my supernatural characters because to their extremely long lifespans, but the principle remains the same, only instead of twenty-five years, it could be a couple of centuries.

So what do I want to know in this autobiography? The guts of what makes the character tick. Were they an only child, and if not what was their birth order and how did it affect them? Were they raised in a religious home and turn away from their faith or the opposite? Did both parents work; if so, did they every show up at a school function or were they too busy? Was the character on the outside looking in or with the inside crowd not knowing or caring if others were left out? What major traumatic event took place that is still impacting them today—death of a loved one, serious illness, war, etc.?

Then I choose a date to start my book. I back off that date by six months. This part is written in third person. Here I write what each of these characters is doing from say, January 1 to when they enter the story. This is the key. Many times a character who impacts the story is off stage for half of it. Yet their actions change things, set things in motion, create conflict. This part also allows me to see where all my major plot points belong.

Let me show you how this worked in Warrior’s Rise.

In Warrior’s Rise the Fae hero, Padraig O’Neal, is haunted by his twin brother’s death. He feels responsible and refuses to allow anyone to get close to his heart. Imagine the internal conflict as he grows close to heroine and realizes he loves her, but their union won’t be complete unless he lets her into his heart and soul.

The heroine, Deva Morgan, is a Fae-human half-breed who has been trained to defend herself by her friends, more like family, of were-soldiers, mages, and a witch. She also owns a bar and lives above it. Her life makes a 180 degree turn when the hero, Padraig O’Neal, saunters into her bar and tells her she has a destiny—to lead the Army For Light against the Dark Lord, who is rising from the Abyss with demons in tow.

Poor Deva. Sure, she’s been trained, but she freezes at the mention of Harpies, and goes into meltdown at the sight of them. Why does she react this way? On her twelfth birthday, her father arrived home more dead than alive after being captured and tortured by Harpies, then in front of her, dies. This type of trauma will haunt Deva, but as she deals with her fear, she becomes the leader her world needs. (You’ll find the free short story of this on my website, not my blog.)

Add onto this what has happened in each character’s life starting January first until they enter the story, and you have your plot and how each character will act and react to specific events.

Warrior’s Rise blurb:

For Fae-human half-breed Deva Morgan, life as she knows it changes on her thirtieth birthday. One moment she’s a barkeep, the next she is a warrior fated to save Earth from the Dark Lord and his demon horde. Shunned by both her races, she faces a danger-filled quest with few allies. Too bad her powers haven’t fully emerged or stabilized.

For Deva it is life or death, on-the-job training with her companion, Padraig O’Neal, a Fae warrior with a shadowed past. Can he quiet the storm raging inside her, help her harness the growing power within her, and provide a barrier between Deva and a fatal outcome? Will their love be enough to save Deva and stop the Dark Lord’s demons from entering Earth?

LJ DeLeon Bio:

LJ DeLeon is an Army brat and a world-traveled former CIA Intelligence Analyst who has seen enough of this world to appreciate other worlds. Working for the CIA was great training for writing fantasy, paranormal, and futuristic romance--and understanding the warrior mentality. Amazing how real life and fiction overlap.

Visit LJ’s website @ http://www.ljdeleon.com

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