Friday, August 19, 2011

Characters: Love 'em or Hate 'em

A couple months ago I went to a local RWA writers conference and met the talented Kristan Higgins. She taught a workshop about characterization. I wish I kept the notes because it was not only very informative, but like most things she does...freakin' funny.

So I wanted to talk about characters and get some feedback from readers. I am very passionate about characters. They're what make the book. The plot is secondary, the humor is secondary, and yes ladies, even the sex is secondary. Because what's the point if you're not connected to, or at least entertained by the characters? Whether it's someone you want to root for, one you love, or one you love to hate.

But I strongly believe characters should be flawed. I like my characters to be as close to real as possible - minus all the fantasy elements (since I write paranormal) and the fact that they are all abnormally gorgeous (cause you want some amount of escapism, right?). But in other ways, they should feel very real. That means multi-dimensional.

Let's talk about contradictions. I think everyone is a contradiction in some ways. For instance, I consider myself feminine though I hate make-up and prefer guy movies. My husband is considered shy but among close friends and family he can be very chatty. I'm spontaneous but I use a calendar. Can you think of a few? Again, the reason for this is because humans are multi-dimensional.

We also change. Sometimes through the course of a decade, sometimes a year, sometimes only a matter of days or weeks. Because of the nature of my books (and being a fantasy writer) my characters sometimes change quickly because of extenuating circumstance they are often forced into. Isn't that true in real life? Has anyone had a life or death situation that changed them forever? I went rock climbing once and almost died and it shook my world. I wised up fast about safety and adventure. I also learned exactly what I was made of. I can think of a hundred examples of this.

Now let's talk about conflict. How important is conflict in a book? Well, I'll let you answer in the comments but to me it is vital. Wouldn't it be a dull book if the characters made perfect decisions in every situation? Or never made mistakes, never made a hurtful comment to someone they loved? Not only is that unrealistic, but it's pretty boring too.

I write a lot of conflict for my characters. Maybe I torture them a little (Lol!). There's one scene in my newest book where Marcelo calls the heroine, Erin, out on a character flaw of hers. She gets pissed, she gets sad, and she does something a little spiteful in the heat of the moment. Being hurt by someone we love (or at least respect) is a powerful thing. It makes us do and say stupid things because we are in such pain.

I believe characters should make mistakes - sometime big ones. Why shouldn't they have to deal with pride, forgiveness, guilty, etc? We all do.

And I like intensity. I just do. I'm dramatic, passionate, and emotional. It's what I write and I'll never apologize for it. Anyone read the Fever series by Karen Marie Moning? Talk about intensity and conflict, right? Mac and Barrons hated each other up until the very end of the very last book. But I LOVED every minute of it. It kept me wondering...what are they going to say/do next? When will they admit their feelings? It drew me right in. It was powerful, emotional, made me stop and think, and sometimes I hated the characters, other times I thought they were the shit. I had felt so many things throughout that series I was almost exhausted from it.

If there are negative things about my characters, I certainly hope there are an equal number (or more) of redeeming qualities. Sage, from my first book, is rough around the edges. She's sarcastic and can be mean and cold. But she's smart. She's a survivor. And she's loyal once she trusts someone, it just takes her a while to get to that point. Erin, from my second book, starts off very dependent because of an anxiety disorder. She goes through a massive transformation after being confronted with life or death situations. She may start off as a weak character but she's also playful and witty and has a kind heart.

Bottom line: characters have weaknesses just like we all do. They are multi-dimensional, just like we all are.

So...those are a few things that are important to me in reading fiction and writing my books. What about you? What are your favorite parts about characters?

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