Okay, so now that I’m finished editing for the tenth time, I am going to take a break and blog the second part of my response to MoonStoneMaiden‘s how characters develop using the writer’s magical powers, memory, and circumstance. Much less like the Almighty yet no less powerful in that we actually create someone using our mind, and then send them out into fiction land to live that imaginary yet somehow real life we envisioned.
Scary fun. Neat stuff that is part of the power and intelligence of the writer.
So, in this part two, I’m going to explain my own characters, where they come from, who they are, and how they develop into the characters they portray in my stories.
All of my characters – good,bad, lead, bit-part, or otherwise are flawed. Some more than others, but not because they’re the antagonist. I know this is what just about every writer who ever lived, is living, or will live does. The cool part is that there are still unique aspects to be had from such a technique. If you agree that no two people are alike – that we are all a metaphor for snowflakes, then you will understand.
No matter how many stories you read in a lifetime, your chances of finding two fictional characters that are identical is nearly impossible.
Another thing I don’t do is follow the here-and-now flow of genre reader likes. In other words: I don’t follow fads. That doesn’t mean there are no vampires in my novels but that I don’t write PC any more than I live by the rules and social morays of PC. My women aren’t suppressed any more than they suppress. My men aren’t domineering as much as they are chivalrous. Gentlemen. They are sometimes intelligent and sometimes a bit flaky, work in a high-power career or wander aimlessly through life never knowing what their true purpose or worth actually is.
They can be anything from starving artist to start-up billionaire, but I do try avoiding work-a-day situations and only to give them more freedom to explore their world. It may not be obvious to anyone but me, but it always makes me laugh when I read a story about a powerhouse attorney who wheels and deals one chapter, and then spends the rest of the story chasing after a woman. What happened to the office? The clients? Aren’t you worried about getting fired? If it can’t happen in real life, then I try not to let it happen in my writing.
I never use one of my characters as a messenger. I’m currently reading something I’d rather not link here (to do the author a huge favor) that is beyond ridiculous. It is apparent, without ever meeting her, that she is religious, heterosexual, older than her character by at least 20 years (or more) and thinks that anyone outside her narrow box of ideals is weird. She’s said as much in her story – using the leading lady as her platform to voice those opinions – and maybe without even realizing it.
That being said, I also never inject any form of religious value into any of my characters or the story line. Not so much because it narrows your audience by quite a bit, but because I’m not sure it has any place in a fictional romance. The two just seem incongruous to me and I choose to avoid for personal reasons.
So, my leading ladies are never omnipotent, manly, bitch, or in-your-face but they aren’t saccharin-sweet dullards, either. Infusing character into a character takes practice, and a willingness to tell versus show/show/show page after page. Sometimes it’s necessary to slow down, let the reader come up for air, and lull them toward the next block of dialogue with a little back story or insight into one or more of the characters.
The waning art of imagery in prose.
My characters have their unpleasant moments as well, antagonism on a broad scale that gradually leads to realization and mutual understanding. But I can’t enjoy reading or writing chapter after chapter of antagonistic bullshit. Sure, she may not like the guy at the start (or vice versa) which is fine, but that point has already been made. By the eighth or tenth chapter, it gets really old and annoying to have them still argue, bark, and bitch their way through another scene over the same, damn thing. By that point, real or imaginary, one would start to question the worth of such an alliance. Or, like me, start to question the mentality of the one doing all the bitching and moaning. What, exactly, will it take to get you to see reason or understanding? Where is your off button, by the way?
Subtlety is the key to believable romantic progression.
My leading ladies sport a tattoo or three, are gypsy souls, channel their inner hippie, or seem like Barbie incarnate on the outside yet are no such thing on the inside. I think it’s okay for the writer to do what they do best and not cater to the reader at all costs. Not everyone is skin deep or book cover answer. It takes a bit of prodding, questioning, and learning to find out who they really are, and that is how I present my characters to the reader. If you want to know more, keep reading.
Rarely do I incorporate life-lessons, life’s trials, and medical maladies in my stories. To me, this is the equivalent of Love Story. Death sentences, terminal illness, bodily afflictions, or debilitating disease never make it into my tales because I don’t want the reader to think I’m searching for sympathy or attempting to identify with them. My real goal is to escape reality, and those who want to do likewise are welcome to follow along on the journey.
The wish factor. You’re one way in reality and can become someone else by picking up a book.
Their occupations are rarely corporate in nature. Some have a college degree but not all. Some are intelligent and some not so much, but they all have a rightful place in the society I create. A hair stylist who starts out in small-town strip mall oblivion and ends up at a Paris runway show. Most of the time, neither situation proves to validate their existence. Love isn’t the answer, though.
Love is the reason for the story. Love is what brings the characters together inside the story to make it a romance, but that doesn’t necessarily mean happily-ever-after and more of a soft landing pad ending with a few curious doubts left in the reader’s mind when they arrive at the last page.
The wanna-be master of ambivalence.
As for the male characters, this is where I have the most fun. This is where I really start to delve deep into the minds, souls, and visionary aspects of my characters – main or otherwise. I think this might be because I am already so familiar with the females that I have confidence in knowing how to work them through any story. It’s the guys I have a harder time trying to figure out and worry more about their ability to come off as believable than I do with my women characters.
Guys are tough. But, I do know a lot of guys. College life in the last four years helped open my eyes to the newer generation and their mindset, ideals, and thought processes, though. It was a help, but even if I don’t write with their age group in mind, it doesn’t mean I’m not permitted to inject a bit of their know-how, slang, or even style into my older, more mature characters. Meeting all of the different professors helped, too.
Marriage is never a priority in my writing, either, but sometimes procreation is.
My males are one way at the start of the story and eventually turn into someone else by the end. Not that I believe people are as malleable as all that, or that I regularly perform 180’s on them during the course of the novel, but that they always had it inside them and the point of the story was to bring it to the forefront.
My leading men have flaws, and some of them aren’t pretty or excusable. One critique-r of my latest novel said he sounds a bit like a stalker to her, and although I’m not able to respond, it made me giggle a little because … that was kind of sort of the point. He’s not, of course, but I do so hate that term as it’s over-used and abused today, but he’s not. He just needs to learn how to tone down his enthusiasm and realize that some things are better left to another to decide. Which hearkens back to his childhood, which is brought up inside the story to give the reader a clearer picture for his behavior. They will see that he’s an adorable hyper-active soul with the heart of Superman who can’t stand by and watch without sticking his nose in – and yes, sometimes where it doesn’t belong. But, that’s him. That’s my Neal.
You’re just not going to learn everything about him in the first 3 paragraphs of my novels.
The hardest thing for me to do or change about myself and my romantic inclinations with writing is to make the leading man (and even the antagonist male) appear as anything less than borderline sublime. Handsome, tall, built well, with some facial feature that tends to knock the opposite sex off their feet. The eyes that bore right through to her soul, the smile that can’t be ignored, or the masculine tone of his voice that chills to the bone.
Never too good to be true, though. Maybe in her eyes but not in the eyes of the reader. A woman in direct competition with a man for beauty attention or vanity-topping ego is not my idea of romantic lead. He can have his mirror but not the girl.
There’s nothing wrong with a good, old-fashioned square jawline or prominent cheekbones, a full but not unruly brow, or hard eyes that are diminished by long, thick lashes. I have an issue with chest hair, though. The furrier the body, the less inclined I am to show interest. My leading men aren’t smooth models / body builders, but I don’t make them woolly mammoths, either. Same with facial hair. I’m starting to accept the ubiquitous 5 o’clock fad, but not every-man bald or full-on beard and can’t-see-his-mouth mustache.
Nemesis or protagonist, I like both to be attractive, and I sometimes make the antagonist slightly better than the leading man, too. This is just pure joy on my part, nothing more. No hidden agenda or mean-spirited ploy to mess with the minds of my fussy readers.
The underdog hypothesis.
A character is of value who possesses redeeming qualities that are underlying in outward appearance. He looks one way but behaves another. He seems uppity but actually cuddles with puppies in his spare time. A biker type who knows how to sew the eye back onto his girl’s favorite stuffed animal and will do so without shame. When it comes to fantasy romance, the guy must be robust, steadfast in his convictions, and still willing to crawl submissively when begging forgiveness from his lady. In contemporary romance, he should be a bit of a screw-up yet still possess a mature manliness that would attract the opposite sex while also fumbling his way toward the goal of winning her heart.
The ideal man in an ideal world, if you will.