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BonusParts A to Z: Character

I took a poll a few weeks ago about what this “C” post should be about. Since I didn’t give the option of Cookie, Character won out. (The other available options – Cursive and Color – I’ll touch on in other posts, since there were a few folks who showed interest in those.) But for now….

C is for Character

There are already a lot of books and articles out there focused on how to write great Characters, and it’s not my place to tell anyone else how to write their characters. Instead, I’ll tell you about how I write mine.

Beginning Concepts

Every one of my stories starts with a main character, and the main character’s conflict. This initial conflict can be very simple, like a young woman finding out she’s falling in love with her teenage rival, or quite complicated, such as a special forces bodyguard trying to help his assignment-turned-friend escape the government conspiracy rising up around them. From that conflict, a personality starts to emerge. Oftentimes, it takes the shape of a voice, a face, and a manner.

My characters have very distinct voices in my head. Some voices come in accents, such as Seven’s clipped Ukrainian enunciation. That character’s particularly precise way of speaking, without contractions, created a picture of a big man with a straight posture who walks and moves with an efficiency of effort. That became his manner and his form. The third basic part of Seven’s creation was his face. He had to be a good-looking man but also scarred by his past. I made that scar physical and on full display on his face, in contrast to its secrecy.

With those three basic building blocks in place, Seven was free to grow as I experimented with dialogue, situations, and relationships.

Telling Their Own Story

No character exists in a vacuum. Story beats and other characters, both major and minor, have an effect on them. As my characters’ voices become clearer and more distinct from each other in my head and on paper, they start to become more fully-realized people. And, I do think of most of my characters as people. They have lives before I pick them up, and they have lives that continue after I let them go. (The ones I don’t kill do, anyway.)

I’m a firm believer in letting characters run as free as they can. Of course, a story has to follow a plot, and a writer can’t let a plot get away from them. But there have definitely been times when a character’s voice has been so powerful that I’ve had to change the story to suit them. For example, in my Persona 4 story 1 More Chance!, Yukiko was originally going to marry Kou, as laid out at the start of the story. But as I began to write more of Yukiko, her own voice usurped my previously-laid plans, and she revolted against those plans. That led to a completely unexpected fourth arc of the story that I personally think works better than my original outline.

What Did We Learn?

My characters rarely start out as traditional archetypes. They may become that – or come closer to that – over their time in my stories, but I prefer to create not from a distinctive mold but from an amorphous and changeable possibility. To me, that’s what makes these characters people.

But what about you? How do you create your characters? Let me know in the comments or on social media!


Strength in the “Fairer” Sex

I was going to talk about how it’s important to stay healthy while you’re working on any project (even a writing project), but I’ll save that for another time. Because I seem to be coming down with something, and because, earlier this week, my thought processes were waylaid by a few different posts about what it means to be a woman, and how society views women. I’m not taking a stance on whether one or both of these posts is right or wrong. They simply made me think. About myself, and specifically about my female characters.

I’ve talked about this conundrum before: how important (or not) it is for a character to be likable. It’s the same for women characters as it is for men. Whether they’re likable is often irrelevant, so long as they’re realistic. Likability should come – or not – based on how “real” they are: their sympathies, their reactions, their thoughts and feelings. My current main character is a man, and his big starting flaws are that he’s vain, distrustful, and driven by his biology, to put it nicely. He’s been an absolute blast for me to write, because – particularly early on – he’s free to be so one-dimensional in a lot of his interactions (“Let’s have fun!” “Let’s surf!” “Let’s f–k!”). Since it’s a romance story, he has to face and overcome (or run away from) certain obstacles introduced by the main female character.

This is where it gets tricky.

Women expect other women in stories – especially romances – to be intelligent, powerful, strong. But, not all women are powerful or strong in the same way.

Don’t get me wrong: I love women who kick ass. When I was a kid, I wanted so badly to be Vasquez from ALIENS: she was no-nonsense, stood toe-to-toe with any of her fellow (male) Marines, and went out in a blaze of glory. I loved that! My opinions of strong women haven’t changed as I’ve gotten older…but I have realised a woman doesn’t necessarily have to be a stoic smartgunner in order to be “strong.”

said kickass smartgunner

As I’ve become a woman, myself, I find I appreciate other women – fictional or real – who can embrace their femininity as a kind of strength. My last heroine was a woman who had a hard time reconciling being a fierce warrior but also a young woman who wanted to be loved by her man. That was a fun, enlightening journey to take with her, but I wanted to do something different for my next heroine.

Perhaps it’s because this current story is from a man’s point of view, but I don’t have a problem with my new heroine being girly, sassy, and sexy. (That’s what my hero likes about her!) That doesn’t mean she’s a wimp, though, and I don’t think I’m dismissing The Sisterhood by making her not be a fighter; her strength ends up manifesting in more subtle ways. Simply because she’s a nurturer rather than a hunter shouldn’t mean she’s any less valid as a strong woman character than a ball-busting CEO or tough-as-nails starship captain.

Of course, no one will ever be another USCMC PFC Vasquez, J. (Sidenote: Jenette Goldstein, who played Vasquez, is just as kick-ass as her breakout role. Just check out her shop at – this is a lady who understands how great it is to be sexy!)

What does a “strong” woman character mean to you?