Friday, May 16, 2008

How are characters born?

My good friend and fellow romance novel lover asked me the other day how writers create their characters. I thought other romance readers out there might be pondering the same question…

Approaches to character development are as varied as the personalities of character themselves. Each author’s approach is unique and I expect it evolves over time as authors grow and learn.

My characters are revealed to me as I write furiously on my first draft. As they become more fully formed in my brain, I like to imagine them in different situations. How would my heroine feel and react if she had stayed up most of the night writing, forgotten to pay the credit card bill and the mortgage and had three kids asking in unison, at various decibel levels, “What’s for dinner?”…hypothetically, of course.

Some authors create in-depth character sketches of the people populating their books. These sketches cover emotional characteristics such as strengths and weaknesses, how the character handles emotions like anger, sadness, joy, even what he or she would change about herself or himself. The sketch also addresses physical traits, involving not only looks but also habits, hobbies, health, favorite sayings, and speech patterns. There are often intellectual and spiritual elements in a character sketch as well.

An incredibly important consideration is the character’s name. For example, if my hero is of the buff, kick-ass variety I probably don’t want to name him “Cecil”. On the flip side, my suave, debonair hero isn’t going to be called “Butch”.

Some authors like to give their character’s a birthdate and then consider the astrological sign or numerology associated with it. I have often heard authors say they base a character on a real person or a photo that speaks to them, adding their own interpretations, biases and flair.

But, whatever approach an author uses, what matters most is that you, the reader, find the characters likeable, believable and worth investing the time it takes to read several hundred pages!

Who are some of your all-time favorite characters? What really made them come alive?