Creating believable characters
LAST CHANCE! Don’t forget to enter my favorite romance writing contest of all time, the Golden Rose. This is the contest that got me published, but even before that I received wonderful feedback from judges who wanted to help me succeed.
Continuing the Janes roundup of the Rose City Romance Writers‘ Spring Fling Writers Conference, I’m sharing the highlights from Amy Liz Talley‘s workshop on Authentic Writing: Creating Characters & Worlds Readers Love.
Because I tend to be a plot-driven writer, I’m especially (even painfully?) conscious of the need to make sure my characters are always working as hard as they must to engage readers. Liz talked about four keys to creating believablity.
1. Flaws, secrets, and vulnerability
No protagonist should be so bad that she’s irredeemable or so good that she’s insufferable.* It’s the flaws and the need to keep secrets that make a character vulnerable and cause conflict as she tries to protect herself. And it’s also her vulnerability that makes her able to ultimately change for the better. (Hey, these are romances. Of course they change for the better!)
2. Past influences and backstory
Threaded through the on-page revelation of the character, old wounds and triumphs going all the way back to childhood — or even further into family history — help explain why a character does what she does and make her more than just a two-dimensional leaf blown anywhichway on the plot wind.
3. Consistent behavior
Faced with the twists and turns of the plot, the character should act in a way that internally consistent with the driving forces of her flaws and backstory. She’ll behave as she always has right up until the plot forces her against the black moment at the end where she must finally change.
This is less about the characters and more about the creator. I’m not a huge fan of research — I love Wikipedia! — mostly because of how lost I can get answering an otherwise simple question about what sort of ionized gas is emitted from a black hole. But Liz had a great example: Since she was speaking in Portland, Oregon, in the spring, she noticed all the plants she doesn’t have where she lives in Louisiana near the Texas border. And they don’t have tulips in the spring! Too warm for the bulbs to overwinter. To create a believable world, a writer needs to know what springs from the very dirt of your creation. No pressure!
Spring is a great time for creation. And since Oregon is having one of its wettest rainy seasons on record, I’m getting a lot of indoor computer time. Hope you are finding inspiration from our Spring Fling recaps!
* Obviously, these are guidelines, not “teh rulz”!
A finalist in both RWA’s prestigious Golden Heart award and RITA award, Liz Talley has found a home writing sassy contemporary romance. Her stories are set in the South where the tea is sweet, the summers are hot and the men are hotter. Liz lives in North Louisiana with her childhood sweetheart, two handsome children, three dogs and a mean kitty.
You can visit Liz at www.liztalleybooks.com to learn more about her upcoming books, including her most recent ALL THAT CHARM, the latest in a series about best friends who are each bequeathed the chance to make the most of their lives and love.