For one of our recent contests, I put in a required-to-enter question that went a little something like this:
"What sort of non-review subjects would you like to see us post about here at Edgy Inspirational Romance?"
One of our readers responded that she would like to see some posts on writing. For example: "What makes a great hero or heroine?" To answer, I went right to the source: one of the many awesome and friendly authors I've had the honor of getting to "know" through this blog: Tamara Leigh.
CREATING GREAT HEROES/HEROINES
by Tamara Leigh, bestselling award-winning author
How do you create great heroes and heroines? Easy. Just borrow the techniques bestselling authors use to make characters stick in such a way that a reader doesn’t want to brush them off when they get to “The End.” That’s it. Happy writing!
Author of The Unveiling and Restless in Carolina
Were you jolted? If not…well, I tried. But if you gave a blink of surprise, let this serve as an example of one way to create characters that keep readers flipping pages. You likely came to this article with the expectation of gaining useful advice. After all, a published author ought to know something about the subject. And yet her article consists of one brief paragraph. However, at the end of it, your insight into the author (read: character) expanded. She stayed in character by sharing advice, but as for that advice…
Regardless of whether or not you were jolted, regardless of what impression was formed of the author, you were taken a layer deeper into her character. Hopefully, it raised questions like: Is she serious? Is she full of herself? Is she a prankster? Is she an airhead…imposter…anti-social? Whatever the questions, she became more human, thereby increasing the chance you would invest time in her. What does that mean? In terms of this article: you went in search of answers. In terms of a novel: you TURNED THE PAGE.
Though I’m mostly an intuitive writer, I’ve learned to analyze my writing over the course of 14 novels contracted by publishers like RandomHouse and HarperCollins. So how do I endeavor to make characters memorable? Mostly, I rely on my own reading experiences. When a character grips me, I ask: Why do I cry when X cries—laugh when X laughs? Why am I anxious when X faces an obstacle? Why does X stay with me even when I put down the story? I also question the rare antagonist that presents as more than a paper doll villain: What makes me sympathize with Y even though Y is a baddy? The answers have given me insight into what makes a character great. In summary, this is what I strive to do when I create characters:
MAKE THEM HUMAN. Even if a heroine is a mature Christian, she won’t always think/act/speak like one. She will make emotional—and bad—choices that the wise author uses to further the plot. In other words, a character should be humanly flawed in order for readers to relate to them in such a way that they become almost real. Note: One reason I didn’t sooner transition from the general market to the inspirational market was because I had difficulty relating to characters in inspirational novels published during the ’90s. Too often, a character’s only apparent flaw was a bad thought or misplaced word. Perhaps that’s why so many readers embraced Francine Rivers’ edgy Redeeming Love. Though I probably shouldn’t admit that the novel wasn’t a “keeper” for me, the author so deeply and believably flawed her heroine that I felt as if she was real. And nothing got in the way of me reading to the end to discover how she could possibly find redemption.
MAKE THEM QUIRKY/UNIQUE. When I write romantic comedy, I give my heroine quirky traits and habits to make her stand out. In Stealing Adda, my once-upon-a-time nail biter heroine is obsessed with her fingernails and always up for a new coat of polish. When I write historical romance, I imbue my heroine with unique traits and habits. In The Unveiling, Annyn Bretanne is a woman so bent on revenge that she is more familiar with the sword than sewing—a no-no in the 12th century. Regardless of what quirk or unique trait you give a character, make sure the reader experiences instances of it throughout the story.
MAKE THEM CONSISTENT. Regardless of the personality you establish for a character based on genetics, background, experiences, etc., it’s usually best to do so gradually, allowing readers the thrill of piecing together characters scene by scene. Once the core personality is established, be consistent. For example, the “strong silent type” who becomes the “weak blubbering type” further on down the road isn’t likely to fly—unless, of course, he has wings (aka transformation). In which case, read on.
MAKE TRANSFORMATION BELIEVABLE. Change is good—and usually desired—but nothing tempts me more to pitch a book across the room (or should I say “remove it from my reading device”?) than a character who becomes an entirely different person without warning or reason. If a heroine consistently avoids conflict, she—and you as the author—can lose credibility if she suddenly jumps into the fray. Over the course of the story, there must be signs of transformation, even if only in Hansel-and-Gretel-sized crumbs. Thus, even if a reader doesn’t clearly see the change coming, reflection should allow her to connect the dots (crumbs) and experience an “I didn’t see that coming, but it makes sense” moment.
That’s all there is to creating characters who aspire to be great. Just kidding. As stated, I’m an intuitive writer but, hopefully, some of what works for me will work for you. Happy writing (and this time I mean it)!
Tamara Leigh lives near Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and sons, a Doberman that bares its teeth not only to threaten the UPS man but to smile, and a Shih Tzu with a Napoleon complex and something of an eating disorder.
Great advice, Tamara! Thanks so much for coming to visit with us today and for sharing some helpful tips with all the aspiring authors out there!
Image credits: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/photo_11015065_closeup-portrait-of-frustrated-young-woman-over-white-background.html'>logos / 123RF Stock Photo</a>
Image credit: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/photo_13786398_blackboard--welcome.html'>mariok / 123RF Stock Photo</a>