Monday, June 4, 2018

How to Create Compelling Characters - the Wild Child

This week we have the Insecure Writers Support Group meeting.
With my new format, I try to encourage writers and give writing advice. But the IWSG is also a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, or a crash-test dummy to smash if you need to let out frustrations. I actually did all of the above last week in my Really Real Housewives post, so I'm feeling much better.

My problems also took backseat perspective when I read some other way more serious circumstances of writers I'm friends with. I'm praying for C. Lee McKenzie (who just released a book and was struck by tragedy) and Cassie Mae (who's been a beloved example of finding joy in life and thankfully still with us). These  are blog-friends I've known and worked with for a long time. They're going through extremely rough patches and could use the support. Thank you.

And if you need to vent or celebrate - I'm listening!

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Now, for my Character Advice...

Whether they know it or not, readers want to connect with characters. Readers love a book because they can relate to them. This connection steers the success or failure of a book. If readers don't like the characters, they don't care what happens to them and they'll put the book down, or not buy it in the first place. But how do we write good, quality, jump-off-the-page characters?

Here are my humble suggestions for traits of Compelling Characters:
  • Use qualities that remind readers of themselves or those close to them - keep characters realistic. Ask the question: "Would someone really do that?" And if your character does it anyway, they better have a darn good reason--motivation other than just moving the story along.
  • Not all good guys are perfect - they have flaws; not all bad guys are evil to the core - they have redeeming features. Just like in life, some traits are hidden, but come out eventually!
  • Characters act the way they do for a reason - they aren't just nice or mean for the sake of the scene, there's got to be deeper roots to their personality traits. Readers see through fake, flat characters - like "B-movie actors," not worth their time or money.
Example: The WILD CHILD
This week is my middle son's 18th birthday - can you believe it? I certainly can't! He's my Wild Child, the Act-first/Pay-later, no risk too great Daredevil. His "Wonder Years" have been a complete saga, and we keep wondering if he will survive Part 2: Life In the Real World.

We pick up as the saga continues... My adventurous son has decided to forego college (for which he got a nice scholarship) and join the Army. He's been a "Me do it!" kid since he was two, so once he's made his mind up, there's no convincing him otherwise. It was unexpected, but not a complete shock. We've learned to just go with it, for the most part. We support whatever choice he makes and hope for the best.

I say all this to introduce him as a perfect Wild Child main character: He's hilarious, smart, and handsome - with zero thought for consequences. This has led him into trouble many times - perfect for an action movie with tons of pitfalls he has to figure his way out of. He's super sweet with an innocence about him, yet so mischievous and ornery. A lady-killer who hates to be told what to do and has trouble admitting when he's wrong. Like Han Solo or Peter Quill. That's my Logan.

And I love every bit of him, wouldn't change a thing. When he calls, you know it's serious -- I just cringe and bear it. One of these days, I'll write his action hero adventure story - I've got so much material!

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And of course, I need to give my weekly SHOUT OUT!

We've been friends from the beginning--blogging beginnings, that is. We've helped each other through tough writing blocks, first book publishings, and dealing with not-so-friendly situations. Meeting Heather in person is definitely on my bucket list - as well as she lives in New York, a place I suppose I have to go sometime as the birthplace of the publishing industry in the US, right?

Heather writes Romantic Thrillers, starting with the juicy Maguire's Corner series, One Good Catch and Already Home. I'm not big on Romance, but Heather's got talent and kept my attention! She also shares the load as an Insecure Writers Support Group admin, as well as a caretaker of some unruly gnomes. A truer writing confidant you'll never find. So glad I know her. Stop by her place and say hello - she'd love it!

Have a great week, you guys. Thanks for stopping by!


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Happy birthday to your son. He's in for a wild time in the military.
Heather is all kinds of awesome.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Tara - your son is following his passion and that's what counts in life ... good for him - and yes lots of tales to be told anon. Great to see Heather mentioned ... and a visit to NYC - sounds a good idea.

I feel for Lee so much ... devastating news for her and the family - but good to know Cassie Mae is getting through and enjoying life ...

Take care - cheers Hilary

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Bravo to your son for enlisting and happy birthday to him.

It's been wonderful how everyone has rallied together to support Lee.

The Silver Fox said...

"[N]ot all bad guys are evil to the core - they have redeeming features." Yes! I learned that long before I ever put pen to paper. In fact, I doubt that most villains even see themselves as villains. A lot of them have good (although twisted) intentions, and simply believe that their ends justify their means... although "the ends justifies the means" is not necessarily an attitude they'd allow for anyone other than themselves.

Happy birthday to your son, too. I do find it kinda hard to believe that you have kids that are that old (and older, since you said he's your middle son).

H. R. Sinclair said...

Birthday wishes to your son!

Yeah, as much as we want a good plot, it falls down if the characters are flat.

Diane Burton said...

Happy Birthday to your son and best wishes for his future in the service. Characters have personalities the same as real people. In fact, those personalities are what make our characters real to the reader.

Juneta key said...

Happy Birthday to you son. He certainly is handsome and definitely fits the bill for a great story character. That is a great picture. Loved hearing you talk about him.

Anonymous said...

Happy birthday to your son.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

Sending positive thoughts and prayers to all those who need encouragement and support....

Christine Rains said...

Happy birthday to your wild child! That is great advice for characters. I always like villains who make you wonder if they might be right.

Chrys Fey said...

I love giving my characters flaws. And, you could say, that a good quality is a bad guy's flaw. lol

Great tips!

Happy Birthday to your son!

Tyrean Martinson said...

Happy Birthday to your Wild Child! :)
I love that you way you support him. I have a pretty stubborn second child, too. She has a quiet style combined with a no-fear attitude for any physical activity. She took me down many black diamond and double black diamond ski runs that I wasn't ready for when she was younger - because she would just go for it (after my husband and older daughter started down a safer, more medium route) and I would chase her down, fearing for her life - of course, she only fell once - the one time I didn't see where she went! (She went through trees, during a night ski, but just winded and bruised herself when she got tripped up on a small tree.) Thankfully, she realized she does need a "buddy" for most adventures.
I guess I might have some character help there, too. :)
Happy Writing in June!

Loni Townsend said...

Happy birthday to your son. I could imagine with him, you might have some suppressed near-heart attacks as he conquers another stunt!

LD Masterson said...

Happy birthday to your wild child. I've got one of those, too. Mine was supposed to be college bound but opted for the Marine Corps and celebrated his 19th birthday in combat communications training in California. God bless them all.

Chemist Ken said...

Hmmmm.... My son is just plain stubborn. And he's rather quiet, which makes it hard to argue with him. He doesn't have the discipline needed for the army either. Good luck to your son... and you!

Carrie-Anne said...

Happy birthday to your son!

Motivation is always key for developing and understanding characters. I also agree with making characters multi-faceted, instead of 100% good or evil.

Heather M. Gardner said...

Great advice, Tara!

Congrats and HB to your son! Thank him for his service and may he be safe.

Thank you for the shout-out!!!
Love knowing you and watching your journey!
I'm honored to be your blog friend!


dolorah said...

My children have been excellent character fodder too. Sometimes, I can't believe what they did wasn't a figment of my imagination. Good looking kid you got there :)

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Hi, Tara. It's good that you let your son be who he is. He'll keep growing that way. Meanwhile, I'm reading Tick Tock a Stitch in Crime and enjoying it so much. I thought your "Reset" was awesome. Once I finish the book, I'll review it. Great collection.

Julie Flanders said...

Happy Birthday to your son! I wish him all the best in the Army - good for him.
Just read your Housewives post - sorry about the job but glad you are feeling better and that writing about the whole situation helped! Take care!

Michelle Wallace said...

Happy Birthday to your son, Tara!

I struggle with character names. My characters remain Mrs. B, Mr. X and Miss Y for a very long time.

I read an interesting IWSG post where the author said she researches geography and culture before settling on a name. Another IWSG participant said that a name needs to also be decade-appropriate, which makes sense if one actually wants to find the best possible name for the character.
I also like the ‘sound’ of a name. But as wonderful as a name ‘sounds’, the aural appeal should ideally be secondary to the appropriateness of the name.
Lots to think about.

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