Characters are more than just the sum of their actions. In the previous weeks, I discussed character archetypes and negative/positive personality traits, but all of these really just boil down to actions. So what more do you need to create a living, breathing, well-rounded character?
To give your characters the breath of life, you need to give them a past full of good and bad experiences, even though their full back story will never be revealed to the reader. Susie May Warren does a fantastic job of explaining how she does this in her book The Story Equation (SEQ), and I highly recommend getting it. For the meantime, here is the basic process derived from her SEQ.
Developing Character History
Your character is who they are when they walk on the page due to their histories. As an author, it would be impossible create a comprehensive life story for your character from birth to the time they walk on the page. Many of those details are not important.
The important details of our lives are those life-altering parts. Those moments in time that end up wounding you, burying a lie deep into your heart, and creating fears. Susie May Warren calls these Dark Moment Stories.
Dark Moment Stories
These dark moment stories aren’t as vague as “my parents divorced.” As bad as divorce is, moments within the divorce will be what really shaped the experience of your character. They are the stories that can be retold in detail to another character.
For example, take a story of a four-year-old boy whose father walked out on him. That memory is so painful, so poignant it becomes immortalized in the mind, twisting and growing roots down to the soul.
He can remember his Dad loading up the car, ignoring the son as he followed behind asking questions.
“Daddy, where are you going?”
“Can I go, Daddy?”
“Why is Mommy crying?”
“Can I help?”
Then it happened. Dad closed the door, separating the boy from him forever. The boy runs to the window and watches as the car putters off into the distance without one backward glance from the driver.
Imagine the wound developed by that. What fears would develop from that experience? The fear of abandonment. The fear of being unworthy. The fear of being out of control.
Lies will develop from this experience. I’ll never be good enough. I am unlovable. I can’t trust people. People I love will always end up leaving.
These lies and fears developed from the wound determine the actions of our characters and make them believable. The wounding story is what makes us sympathize the character and even connect with the character. You don’t have to have your father abandon you to understand the feeling of abandonment.
Bringing your characters to life means giving them experiences that readers can connect to and identify with. Give them experiences that define who they are at the beginning, but are overcome and redefined at the end.
Exercise Your Brain
This week, come up with your own dark moment story for a character (or use a real experience, we’ll never know!). Then tell us the possible lies and fears developed from that dark moment story. Come back and encourage one another and comment on the different stories.
Sometimes as readers and writers, it is interesting and even helpful to hear from other published authors. Yesterday, you were able to read my review for Angela’s newest release, out this week, The Scarlet Coat. Today, Angela has graciously agreed to join my blog for an interview.
Once you have enjoyed the post, please join her Facebook Release Party. The actual party begins on Thursday, January 27th from 10 AM – 6 PM UTC-07 time (or 12PM to 8PM EST for those who were like me and went, huh?), but you can go ahead and check out a bit about the party and GIVEAWAYS!!! Wahoo!
Welcome, Angela! and thank you so much for agreeing to my quirky author interview. I’ve split my questions into two categories today: Questions about the Story and Questions about Writing.
Questions about The Scarlet Coat
How long have you wanted to write this story?
Not too long. I actually wrote this story as soon as I came up with the idea almost nine years ago! This is one of my first complete manuscripts. But it looked a lot different back then. The original was written in first-person and completely from the heroin’s point of view.
What do you love about The Scarlet Coat? Do you have a favorite scene?
I must say I love him. I loved writing the British officer who can’t remember who he is. I loved (once I added his point of view) letting him discover himself more honestly than he’d ever let himself before. My favorite scene is when his pride gets in the way of his good sense and he tries to leave before he’s able.
Were there any scenes you edited out of this book? Any of them you care to share?
The whole last quarter of the book was completely rewritten when I went back to it a couple years ago. I don’t know what to say about the old end, though, without giving away too much of the new one. 😉
Which character did you identify with most?
Fine, I’ll admit it, Rachel and I share a lot in common. Maybe not in the first draft, but when I went back to this story, I decided I could give one of my heroine’s some of my personality. That’s when she started digging out the huge stump in the garden (I had one in my back yard, too.)
Your cover is beautiful. What was the cover design process like for you? Did you get to have any input?
Thank you! My publisher took care of all that. There were two little things they changed on my suggestion, but otherwise, they did a great job.
What is your biggest hope for your readers as they devour your book?
First, I do hope they devour it…or at least really enjoy it. But as they read, I do hope there moments where they contemplate their own relationship with God and consider His love for each of us.
Questions about Writing:
Do you believe in writer’s block?
I believe in needing to step back and do more research—whether that consists of real research into the era, or a long hot bath or walk to get the imagination flowing again. At least that’s what works for me.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Both. Sometimes the story is so exciting and it comes with such ease that energy flows through you. And other times it’s like pulling teeth and drains the life out of you. Thankfully the first is slightly more prevalent. 😉
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Other than buying a laptop that wouldn’t die and dump chunks of a story, my ACFW membership was worth its weight in gold. The resources, contacts, and friends I have made are priceless. Every success I’ve had as a writer can be linked directly to American Christian Fiction Writers.
What did the road to publishing look like for you?
I got my first nibble from a publisher back in 2009, just before I got engaged to my husband. They wanted to publish my book, (a different one) but when they ran the numbers they couldn’t fit it in the 2010 season. In 2011 they closed their doors. I got married and had a baby and didn’t do much writing for about 4 years. Then I felt strongly I needed to get back to work. Only now, I had a 2 year-old and a 9 month-old mama’s girl. I took an evening class in creative writing once a week for a semester and joined ACFW. That next summer I entered my first short story contest and was a finalist. The following (2015) summer, I entered two short story contests and won both! A couple months later I heard back from a small publisher offering me a contract for Her Blue-eyed Brave, (which will hopefully be released in the next year.) A month later I was given the contract for The Scarlet Coat and its sequel, The Patriot and the Loyalist. That has grown to a four book series that I am super excited about!
How have you seen God through writing your novels?
There are moments when I look back on what I just wrote and realize I’m not that good. When the book and characters take me in a direction I’d never imagined or they say something that even gives me pause for thought…that’s when I know I’m not the only one moving my fingers across the keys.
My last but not least question, what advice would you give writer’s just beginning their journey?
Don’t do it alone! There are so many other writers out there who can help you on this journey, and who you can help. There is strength, knowledge, and resources in community. Plus a lot of commiseration and celebration during the highs and lows that come with this business.
Thank you again, Angela, for taking the time for this interview. Readers, don’t forget to join Angela’s Facebook Release Party! I hope to see you there! If you have any questions you want to ask Angela, post them below and I will pass them on and post her answer.