IT’S A CHOCOLATE BOX GIVEAWAY!
Over the next few weeks, my fellow Chocolate Box authors and I are hosting a blog hop. That means, you’ll be reading guest posts from some terrific new authors and have a chance to win a terrific prize: A collection of romance novels just in time for the start of beach-chair reading! You’ll find new releases from Donna Alward, Shirley Jump, Liz Fielding, Susan Meier, Me and more! Plus some other goodies like chocolates and designs from Jackie Braun.
First up, is Shirley Jump, whose book THE SWEETHEART RULES debuts this week! She’s talking character creation. I know I’m reading these tips carefully as I delve deeper into the Super Seekrit Project.
Thanks so much for having me here! I thought I’d talk about character today, because I get asked about creating characters all the time. For me, my book derives from my characters and plot at the same time, in sort of a ying-yang thing. Okay, that sounds crazy. It’s not as nut as it sounds. I swear ;-).
Lots of writers come up with an idea for a book but then aren’t quite sure where to go from there. I always start with character, and by doing that, the book becomes character driven, rather than plot driven. Character driven books are more emotional, connect more, than plot-driven stories.
For me, I have often have a What-If situation—What if a commitment phobic Coast Guard Lieutenant is suddenly saddled with two kids? What if a woman who is trying to start a new life finds out she’s walked into a money pit of a change?
Then I decide on WHO my character is. Is she a murderer? An actor? A chef? Is she the protagonist or antagonist? Is he the father of the murder victim? The doctor who diagnoses a life-threatening disease? A lot of times this vocation will come from the plot. If you’re writing a murder mystery, obviously you need a killer, a victim and a hero. If you’re writing a romance, you need a hero and a heroine who have a few conflicts between them but not so many that they can’t get together. If you’re working on a children’s story, then you need a child protagonist who goes through a life-changing event.
For THE SWEETHEART RULES, my latest in the Sweetheart Sisters series with Berkley, I chose a hero and a heroine who were opposites in everything from their jobs to their approach to life. Responsible single mom and veterinarian Diana has decided never to rely on a man again. Then she has a one-night stand with no-strings Coast Guard Lieutenant Mike Stark. Six months later, when Mike returns (after being saddled unexpectedly with his two daughters), she ends up having to rely on him when her life is un upheaval. So I had two great characters, with sparks between them. The next step was to figure out who each of these people were and why they were who they were.
Many things help you make these decisions. What kind of person would be thrust into this situation? And why? This can send your plotting into a 100 different directions so brainstorm on this. One of the best ways to brainstorm, and something I teach in my class on my “Brainmap” method, is the spoke and wheel. Draw one word in the center of the page (protagonist, murderer, and antagonist) then draw out lines that lead to all kinds of possibilities. Maybe the murderer is an innocent framed for the crime. Maybe it’s a desperate woman backed into a corner. Maybe it’s an accident. Maybe it’s a serial killer. Feel free to let yourself go, even if you end up with 100 ideas on the page, and come up with as many ideas as you can. Even if you don’t use all these ideas, hold on to the paper. When you get stuck later in the plot, pull this out and see where it leads you.
With THE SWEETHEART RULES, I had my heroine show a secret she is keeping at the very beginning of the book. That secret underlies every decisions she has made, and will come back to haunt her in several different ways. Then I figured out why she would keep such a secret, and what toll it has taken on her life and her relationships.
Third, you need to name your character. For me, I like names that have meaning. I have a baby name book I use to look up meanings, derivatives and nicknames. In THE SWEETHEART RULES, I wanted names that showed their characters. Dependable, reliable Diana and sexy, charming Mike seemed to fit well!
Fourth, create a character “bible.” This can come from a character interview, from your own thoughts, however you want to develop it. The character bible is comprised of the simple stuff – eye color, hair color, etc. But also tackle the bigger issues — what happened to this character as a child? What is he or she afraid of? What’s his worst habit? Greatest trait? Biggest weakness? How does he feel about his parents/ pets? Last girlfriend? All of these things become fodder for great, well-developed characters. For THE SWEETHEART RULES, this became even more vital because it’s part of a three-book series, and I needed to keep everything and everyone straight.
These are the kids of details that give characters life. One of my first rejection letters praised my writing up and down but aid that my characters didn’t breathe and live on the page. I had no idea what this meant at the time, but learned later how to pump life into people on a page.
How do I do it? I filter EVERYTHING through that character’s past. When my character looks out the window at a tree, there is a memory associated with that tree, a memory that impacts on the plot, and that makes the tree and the moment with the character have ten times more meaning.
Characters shouldn’t be static — they should have past habits, annoying traits, likes and dislikes, etc. Those are the little details that make them as real as the neighbor you don’t like or the favorite aunt you love. And creates books that readers love!
If you pick up THE SWEETHEART RULES, I hope you’ll share with me your favorite character! If not, tell me: Who was the most memorable character you read about? What made them so interesting? What kind of traits do you love in heroes and heroines?
Don’t forget to enter the giveaway, too!
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Shirley Jump spends her days writing romance and women’s fiction to feed her shoe addiction and avoid cleaning the toilets. She cleverly finds writing time by feeding her kids junk food, allowing them to dress in the clothes they find on the floor and encouraging the dogs to double as vacuum cleaners.
Look for her Sweet and Savory Romance series, including the USA Today bestselling book, THE BRIDE WORE CHOCOLATE, on Amazon and Nook, and the debut of her Sweetheart Club series for Berkley, starting with THE SWEETHEART BARGAIN in September 2013.