I'm headed back to Louisiana from Bandera today but PLEASE welcome Kathleen Neely back as she shares some thoughts on writing with us....
When Building Characters, Go Deeper
By Kathleen Neely
When an author begins a novel, they will spend the better part of a year with the characters they create. It’s important to know them well. Let’s create one together. We’ll call him Maxwell.
Maxwell has dark brown hair, that likes to curl at the tips. His eyes have a golden sparkle in a sea of copper brown. Broad shoulders tell readers that he spends some time at the gym. His engaging smile lights up a room and all the ladies want to get his attention.
Sorry, that’s superficial. Go deeper.
Maxwell has some quirky traits. He lives life in the fast lane. I’m not talking about wild living, I’m talking about rapid speech, a pacer who can’t sit down for long. Maxwell jumps right in and gets the job done. He has one speed—overdrive.
Okay, that’s a little better. But if you want to engage readers, you better go deeper.
Everyone has a history, and Maxwell’s no exception. He grew up in a high achieving home. His father, a renowned criminal attorney, never hesitated to show his disappointment in his youngest son. Maxwell’s brother was the golden boy who could do no wrong. That is, until he died of an overdose. Maxwell tried to step into his place, but he couldn’t fool his father. He wasn’t as smart, as charismatic, or as ambitious. His father’s grief and disappointment never ceased to show. Maxwell spent his life trying to earn his approval.
Now we’re getting somewhere. We’re learning what makes Maxwell tick.
Maxwell plays out the main role in our story, but now, actions make sense. We know why he lives on overdrive. His behaviors are a result of his backstory. It’s made him who he is today. But wait—what happens when Maxwell has an opportunity to make it big? He’s on the cusp of an accomplishment that will provide recognition certain to impress his father. He just needs to step over a few minor ethical lines. He struggles, telling himself that the lines are slight and the reward is great. Sleepless nights and that tight knot in his stomach help him to make his decision.
We’re now glimpsing the deepest part of our character. We see Maxwell’s desire, his struggle, his rationale in decision making. We see a change.
That’s the long explanation for characterization, but it was fun creating Maxwell.
A brief recap for creating characters:
- Know them well before you begin writing.
- Move beyond appearances. Those are nice details, but they’re superficial.
- Let your reader know about their quirks and traits, but until we dig deeper, we won’t know why.
- Provide backstory. For each of us, our history has molded who we are today.
- Provide a deep look into your character by showing struggle. How does he make decisions and handle temptations, based on his history?
- Our character must experience some growth. How has he changed through the course of the story?
- Remember, in real life and in fiction, no one is totally good or totally bad. Show that in your protagonist and your villain.
What tips do you have for creating characters? I’d love to hear.
Kathleen Neely resides in Greenville, SC with her husband, two cats, and one dog. She is a retired elementary principal, and enjoys time with family, visiting her two grandsons, traveling, and reading.
She is the author of The Street Singer. Two other novels, Beauty for Ashes and The Least of These, will be released in 2019. Kathleen won second place in a short story contest through ACFW-VA for her short story “The Missing Piece” and an honorable mention for her story “The Dance”. Both were published in a Christmas anthology. Her first novel, The Least of These, was awarded first place in the 2015 Fresh Voices contest through Almost an Author. She has numerous devotions published through Christian Devotions. Kathleen's newest release, The Street Singer is available now from Pelican Book Group, Amazon & Barnes and Noble.
Kathleen continues to speak to students about writing and publication processes. She is a member of Association of Christian Fiction Writers.
Website – www.KathleenNeely.com
Facebook – www.facebook.com/kathy.neely.98
Twitter - https://twitter.com/NeelyKneely3628
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Until next time take care and God Bless.