A compilation of my characters from three books, created by image credits: my uber talented daughter: McKenna Bahr.
My first story came from a dream. I can still see her–a woman standing in a crowded amphitheater, anxiously watching a man climb a stage and use it as a throne. All knelt before him, except her. She alone was unable to bow.
I’m glad I woke and scratched down the dream. Today it has evolved into a mega-epic Irish historical fiction called Summoned. Although the dream gave me a basic plot, it was the woman that captured my imagination. Who was she and why couldn’t she bow? Why was she so afraid?
Some characters are tricky. They slip through one’s fingers, evading clear definition. She did not. I got her right away–a young woman named Kathlin, seeking control over her own destiny. It’s a tradition in our family to create at least one gift at Christmas time. My daughter painted this bookmark of Kathlin…
Others, though, refuse to be defined. The appear well-developed, but a bit of examination reveals all the little character holes. You can’t fool a reader. They know something’s off, even if they can’t put their finger on it.
My protagonist from Fairless, Tipper Jones, falls into this category.
Unlike Shay, the golden-haired fellow on the right, Tipper has continued to elude my capture. Here is what I’ve struggled with:
First draft feedback: But WHY is she so against the Traditions? What makes it so bad that she’s willing to risk extreme punishment to defy them?
Second draft feedback: Okay, so she’s had these visions and is seeking a dream-boy. But what about her? What does she need that she can’t get without sacrifice? And she’s static–she continues to miss opportunities to change and grow. She needs to soften up in the middle and stop being so reactive.
Third round and boy, am I scratching my head. Okay, so better. But we still don’t understand what she needs. It isn’t enough! We want more!!! Gack. What is it with this character? How do I flesh her out?
I headed back to my old stand-by how-to books and came up with this oh-so-easy list. It’s helping me. I hope it helps you!
1) Take some time and journal. I like to write as if I’m the character. Details may pop up that won’t make it into the story but will flavor the scenes.
For instance, I didn’t know Tipper Jones struggled with a poor self-image until I wrote about her early school days. Then I learned how she saw herself–through the eyes of her teacher, who felt she was too loud, too brassy; and her peers who didn’t understand her doubts. Beneath all that reaction and anger, she felt she was somehow broken inside.
2) Journal the arc. Where does the character start and where do they end up?
This gave me the framework for Tipper. In the beginning, she’s stubborn, set on self-reliance, and doesn’t trust easily. Knowing this helped me create characters and scenes that would challenge her to change.
3) What’s the lie? What is one simple belief -or the lie- that influences the action of this character? Answer this and you’ll know your character’s dramatic truth.
Tipper believes she can fudge the truth. She can bully her way through any situation and somehow it will all come out okay. But her self-image is distorted and she doesn’t realize until it’s too late that every action comes with a consequence. Her dramatic truth: her brokenness is actually her greatest strength.
4) Understand the difference between compelling and sympathetic. I want my readers to relate to my characters, not feel sorry for them. Quirks are fine, but I like to dig deeper to discover the real nuggets.
This is from a scene near the end of the second act:
Tipper crept to the back room and found Shay lying on a bed of straw. Soft blonde hair fell across his incredible golden eyes. She resisted the temptation to move the]lock back. He needed sleep. And she needed time to form her plan.
She’d left her home. Tossed traditions aside, put her family in danger and for what? What was the real reason she had left?
She needed to define herself without rules placed upon her by others. She needed to seek and know who she was and what she was capable of. Sadness flared when she looked again at Shay, but she pushed it away. She wouldn’t find it staying with this irritating, lying, beautiful boy-o. It is time to rise above her limitations without his interference.
She smiled sadly. Or what he would call help.
In the pre-dawn light, she opened her pack and extracted a pen and paper, careful not to wake Shay. He deserved better than this. He was only trying to help her and his sister, but she could see no other way. She’d leave him a note and try to put into words the dream that demanded fulfillment.
How can I leave you, knowing how angry you’ll be when you wake and find me gone? And yes, I’ve taken James, so no need to check.
I’m sorry for this and for the worry it’ll cause, but I could see no other way. I have to finish what I started. I have to do this on my own.
Protect her Shay, watch over Gwen and I’ll seek Liam. It’s as it should have been from the beginning. You on your quest, me on mine.
She wanted to write what was in her heart. She wanted to tell him she loved him. The words were there, just aching to come out, but she couldn’t say them. Not yet. Not this way.
She folded the note and left it by his bedroll where he’d see it when he awoke. There was no helping the betrayal he’d feel. She stood up. It was time to for the journey to continue. She walked through the barn, keeping her movement soft and light. “Be well, Shay,” she whispered as she closed the door.
“Be well, Shay,” she whispered as she closed the door.
5) Allow their brokenness to become their strengths. And know, some characters shine without any effort while others will haunt you forever.
Shamus O’Reilly, from Fairless as imagined by my daughter, McKenna. He’s one of my all time favorite boy-os and one of my writer’s group most-loved characters.
I wish you happy writing!