Have you ever tried turning people into characters?
At a writing conference, author James Rubart talked about how he had a friend, whom he turned into a character for a novel. He didn’t adapt his friend’s personality or made any other adjustments. He just plunked him in as is.
I don’t have the courage to do that. I figure I’d describe a friend in some way he or she didn’t like and I’d offend them. But most of the characters we writers create contain some aspect we’ve seen in real people.
Such as my oldest’s kindergarten teacher. This woman personified patience and even temperament. She seemed more than able to handle any crisis her students could concoct.
Kindergarten Teacher, speaking in a completely bland voice:
“Now, Aiden, you shouldn’t set fire to the classroom. You’ll get a demerit for it. Children, Aiden has set fire to the room. Please line up at the door so we can leave quickly.”
I’ve been working with a character who has that kind of calm, unflappable personality, although she isn’t a kindergarten teacher. For this character, I’m mixing the kindergarten teacher with a woman from my church.
Who are some people who would work as prompts for characters?
Writers often offer advice on plot, setting, and character as if they were distinct story devices that barely had any association with each other until a writer pulls them into a story. But those three components are all interwoven. Since my theme this month is setting, this post will focus on how setting fuels characters and character fuels setting. If some plot creeps into the article, I can’t help it. Plot, setting, and character are a tight knit family, and I never know when one will come barging in to hang out with the other two.
In real life, environments shape the people who live in them. I’ve lived in a rural county in Ohio for the past fourteen years. I see the world differently from my sisters, although we all grew up in the same small town. They have spent the past several years living in suburbs that are less than an hour’s drive from me. Our homes, and the events that have occurred in them, influence who we are
Pick a setting, any setting
Let’s say I want to write a mystery set on the coast of North Carolina, near Emerald Isle. If my characters have lived by the sea all their lives, that environment will fuel their development. If a man is a fisherman, he can realistically be hard-working and stoic because he learned he must work with the sea when it turns nasty on him. Or he could be hard-working and laid back, having learned he can’t control the ocean but must roll with the punches it metes out.
Emerald Isle is a huge vacation destination. I can believably add characters who are not from that area. Fish-out-of-water stories are a lot of fun as characters clash in a setting familiar to some and alien to others.
In my North Carolina mystery, the fisherman takes several city dudes on a chartered fishing trip. One of the dudes is very snobbish. Another is very competitive. Maybe a powerful entrepreneur or rising politician. A third is new to fishing and very excited about his first ocean fishing trip. One of the vacationers dies on the boat under mysterious circumstances.
When the police suspect the fisherman, he and several other charter boat captains play amateur detectives because they don’t want an unsolved murder to adversely affect their businesses. So careful thought about my setting has let the setting fuel character and characters fuel setting.
In my Work-In-Progress (WIP), my main character Rae is trying to fit into a rural county in Ohio as she gets to know her father and his family for the first time. She grew up in the South, moving many times with her mother before she died. Rae is used to small town living but has never had a chance to put down roots.
Rae is an introvert and shy. She would like to make friends but feels she isn’t good at it because she could never make lasting friends anywhere she and her mother lived. The frequent changes in her environment fuel her personality.
What stories do you know in which setting fuels character and character fuels setting?
I’m so excited about May’s theme, creating characters, that I’m starting a day early! Here to discuss characters in her latest release is YA fantasy and suspense writer, Amy C. Blake. Welcome, Amy!
Which comes first when creating a story – characters, plot, or setting?
I usually have some idea of plot and setting, but I need to know my main character in great detail before I can do much with a story. Since what happens in the plot depends so heavily on my protagonist’s personality and background, I’d say character is the most important factor for me.
Do you use a different approach for villains and heroes?
My hero is a critical part of my story, so I get to know him/her completely before I start writing. While I also need to know my villain thoroughly, that character is somewhat dependent on my hero. In other words, I want my villain to be the best antagonist to fit my hero. For instance, in my Levi Prince series (my new release The Fay’s Apprentice is the third book in that series), Hunter is the perfect villain for Levi. Hunter is rich, self-confident, and insolent. Levi is poor, gawky, and self-conscious. In addition, the ancestors of the two boys shared a similar antagonism to theirs, a factor Levi is only beginning to understand by his third summer in Terracaelum.
Who was the easiest character you’ve created? Who was the most difficult?
The easiest character is a toss-up between Patience from Whitewashedand Levi from my Levi Prince series. Patience was easy because I tend to be impatient like she is. Levi was easy because he’s a homeschooled pastor’s kid like my own children. Christy from Colorblind was the most difficult because she’s super sweet but was also not a believer during much of the story.
What do you think is the key for creating main characters that readers can relate to?
I think it’s key that my main characters be real. They need to be basically likable people but with at least one flaw many readers share. As I mentioned earlier, Patience tends to be impatient. Many of us battle that tendency as well, so she’s relatable. However, Patience isn’t just impatient. She’s also kind to a young mother trying to pacify twin babies on an airplane, and I’m careful to show that side of her personality before I show her flaw(s).
What’s been your most unusual source of inspiration for a character?
My main characters are all homeschoolers, something I haven’t seen in the mainstream or Christian markets. As a homeschooling mom of four, I wanted to show that home educated kids are well-rounded, likable but flawed individuals, just like everybody else.
On Levi’s third summer at Camp Classic, he’s torn between two responsibilities. On the one hand, his parents expect him to watch over his little sister Abby, who has no clue their summer camp is a haven for mythical creatures. On the other hand, Mr. Dominic wants him to train at Fort Terra, a full day’s hike away from his sister, because of Levi’s previous encounters with the demon sorcerer Deceptor. Although he enjoys training with his friends, Levi finds life at Fort Terra difficult thanks to the ongoing tension between him and Hunter and the stress of having his former kidnapper Regin as his chaperone. When the woman Regin claims to be the evil sorceress Anna appears, Levi faces a whole new challenge. (Book 3 in the Levi Prince series)
Award-winning author Amy C. Blake is a pastor’s wife and homeschooling mother of four. She has an M.A. in English from Mississippi College and has written articles, devotionals, and short stories for a number of publications. She’s also writing two series for the Christian market, her Levi Prince YA fantasy series and her On the Brink Christian suspense trilogy.