Last night author Helene Young braved the stormy North Queensland weather to join us at the Writing Races. Helene gave us some great insights into how she creates characters with punch.
Creating characters with emotional oomph
In stories with a romance, it’s important for readers to connect emotionally with the characters. Readers know there will be an optimistic ending because that’s part of the bargain with the genre. What I want is to engage them with the emotional journey the character is taking. I want the readers to see the characters change and grow because of that journey. Along the way in my stories they’ll have to face off any number of psychotic criminals, outlawed motorcycle gangs or in the latest story an arsonist bent on revenge.
There a couple of approaches I use.
First I ask my main characters four questions.
What are their individual story goals?
What or who stands in the way of achieving this?
What do they each stand to lose or most fear to lose?
What do they discover about themselves through the course of the story?
I then ask those questions again of the characters involved in the final blackest moment. Once I’ve nutted out those answers I then work on what emotion is strongest for each character and ensure I’ve strengthened that throughout the story.
Another method I use is essentially plotting backwards. As I don’t plot a story at the start it’s a good opportunity for me to really flesh out my characters. You could almost call it deconstructing them. I find the quality my characters have at the end of the story – the one that they’ve developed during that journey – and make sure it’s missing or weak at the start of the story.
Lastly I up the stakes. Make your characters face the things they most fear. Make them feel the emotions they run from. Make them soft if they are strong and vice-versa.
Developing realistic villains
I love getting inside the criminal mind! Sitting in courtrooms, chatting to strange people on buses, reading memoirs all help with back story. I think one of the best things to do is remember that many criminals start life as law abiding citizens so that makes them ordinary people like the rest of us. Their choices are what make them different so I try and strengthen that motivation as the story progresses. I’d like to think I’m not capable of doing any of the things my criminals do but it’s challenging to try and put myself in their shoes.
Using setting to push your characters further
I think a setting that takes them out of their comfort zone can do both of those things. Writing suspense means the settings are often the driver of the action. Put them under a physical or emotional load and their true characters shine through.
Helene also told us about her writing and editing processes.
Both my published novels started life as NaNoWriMo projects, as did the latest one under edits. There’s something about the ‘stream of consciousness’ style of writing that makes the words flow. Plus the camaraderie. Writing can be so solitary. It’s easy to fall prey to what we call ‘terminal uniqueness.’ We think we’re the only ones struggling with an aspect of writing or life when in fact many others are facing the same dilemma. It’s good to touch base.
I love editing a story although not as much as I love writing it in the first place. I’m all too often guilty of dashing to the finish line and then having to rewrite and expand the end.