NOT YOUR USUAL SUSPECTS

A group blog featuring an international array of killer mystery, suspense, and romantic suspense writers. With premises and story lines different from your run-of-the-mill whodunits, we tend to write outside the box. We blog several times a week on all topics relating to romantic suspense and mystery, our writing, and our readers. We welcome all comments! and often have guest bloggers.

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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Bringing Your Characters to Life

As writers, especially romantic suspense and mystery writers, it is important that our characters come to life for our readers. A useful technique is to make a sketch of as many of the characters in the story as you can. Of course, it's normal to spend considerable time on your protagonists (including the villan), and a lot less on your secondary characters. Here are some tips to get your started.

A.) Use your computer, index cards, a notebook or journal to keep track of all the important aspects of your characters. Some people swear by collages, although I haven't tried one myself.

B.) Try to live just ONE day in the head of your protagonists. How would THEY react to the events going on around you? This is fun to do even if you just do it in your head. Unfortunately, people will still think you're spacey, nuts or in need of medication.

C.) Use ALL the senses to bring your characters alive. You should know:
1.) Appearance -- how they look
2.) Sound -- tone of voice, accent, how they laugh
3.) Smell -- does the heroine wear perfume, have a signature scent? Does the hero always wear that sexy aftershave?
4.) Touch -- can you feel the beard stubble under your fingers? Is the gun in his hand cool or hot?
5.) Taste -- the tang of a nectarine, the melting of chocolate on her tongue

D.) Don't forget to carefully explore and list the things that your characters feel passionate about.

F.) Even if you won't use most of it in the story, sketch a quick outline of the character's birth and important life circumstances. This will be the foundation for the emotional aspects of your characters.

One more tip: When you introduce a character -- reveal who they are slowly, like peeling away the skin from an onion. The more aspects and tidbits you can drop into the story about your characters will make them multi-dimensional, more interesting and infinitely more relatable.

So, who are some of your favorite and most memorable characters and why?

8 comments:

Marcelle Dubé said...

Good post, Julie. One of my favourite characters, at least recently, is Chief Inspector Gamache, Louise Penny's hero in the Three Pines mystery series. He is a middle-aged man of principle and courage, with an old-world courtesy that melts the coldest heart. *sigh* I may have mentioned him before...

Betsy Horvath said...

Great post, Julie! I love to do character sketches. Ironically, I have the most trouble actually seeing the faces of my characters. I know their traits. I know how they talk or walk. I can see them in my mind, until I get to the face. Then it's as if I'm looking out of my own eyes - I can describe their features, but I don't see them.

Okay, back to the medication now...LOL

MaureenAMiller said...

Great post, Julie. I'm like Betsy...I can describe my characters down to a beauty mark behind the left ear, but I can't actually see them. They are larger than life and always far superior than I can do them justice.

Shirley Wells said...

I can always see my characters but not until I can hear them. I need to hear them before I can see them.

Great post, Julie!

Wynter Daniels said...

Good points. I keep a character sheet where I track everything about each character because I tend to forget. Sometimes I find a photo (a celeb or model)that I pin up near the computer for inspiration.

Julie Moffett said...

@Marcelle: I MUST read Penny's series. I have heard many good things about it!

@Betsy & Maureen: That is SO interesting because I usually see my characters' faces first!

@Shirley: I also hear my characters first!

@Wynter: I know lots of writers who keep collages or pin up characters for inspiration!

Elise Warner said...

Julie: Enjoyed the post. I use index cards and see and hear the characters. My favorite character is Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse. He is so real to me I cried when he died. Medication?

Anne Marie Becker said...

Betsy & Maureen, I'm with you - can't see my characters' faces clearly. I'm so glad I'm not alone!

I like the onion analogy - slowly peeling away those layers to keep the mystique of the characters and yet give them depth is so important!

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