Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Hero Who Designs Barbie Dresses Is Still Out of the Question

I'm at the point in my manuscript where I know my characters as first-draft acquaintances. Sure, we've shared some flashbacks, seen each other in action under pressure-they from internal and external forces, me from the cruel whip of self-imposed deadlines. But, now, as I'm fully entering what Robert Ray calls the Meditative Draft, our relationship takes on a whole new level of intimacy.

We want our characters to be relateable but we know "normal" or "average" can be the death knell of boring in fiction. For me, it works to focus on their universality. What are the notes of that character that will resonate with every man, every woman, every person in every walk of life? Characters who have lived universal truths of love and loss, beginnings and endings, injustice and vulnerability, are at the heart of the reader's attachment to a story. Beyond that, I give them space to take flight into the quirky, abnormal, extreme or larger-than-life arena that makes them memorable.

Not so long ago it was unheard of in the romance genre to have a nerdy or blind hero, or an overweight or physically-challenged romance heroine, but authors like Vicki Lewis Thompson and Jude Devereaux and LaVyrle Spencer found success in the universality of those characters.

I have a book I use at this stage of writing: Building Believable Characters by Marc McCutcheon. Mark has been my go-to writing guide BFF since I picked up his Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in the 1800s. He adds some amazing tools to the writer's toolbox with his reference books. His Building Believable Characters book contains a character thesaurus of not only superficial lets-get-to-know-our-characters physical attributes but goes deeper into personality traits, bad habits/vices, diseases and psychological afflictions, hobbies, patterns of speech and even gestures and facial expressions when the creative well is running dry. It's a great source of ideas to help your character "take flight."

What's the most bizarre character trait or quirk you've ever read in a novel?


the walking man said...

The hero who can drink five martini's and when confronted grab their date in one arm and with dead on aim kill 6 people with a five shot .38 special.

Of course though she is a Bond Girl, InkyLuv (my hero *swoon*) so it may not be so a bizarre a character trait.

Jen FitzGerald said...

Sounds like a great book, L.A. I may have to go find that one.

Katie Reus said...

Off the top of my head I can't think of anything uber bizarre or quirky but I loved Jaine's potty mouth in Linda Howard's Mr. Perfect. She's definitely a memorable character :)

Robin said...

I can't think of anything really bizarre either - although Lulu from the Stephanie Plum books is pretty colorful!

Thanks for the introduction to Marc's book - I'm going to look for it.

Happy Writing!!

Marilyn Brant said...

I think less surprises us now as readers, so it's harder to think of a character that stands out as quirky. Holden Caulfield was once considered, he's almost sweet :). But you drew me in with the idea of a Barbie Dress Designing Hero, L.A. I wanna read about this guy sometime!

Charles Gramlich said...

that's a really good question. I'm going to have to give it some thought. I usually try to give my characters one or two eccentricities. I've had a few with phobias or OCD for example. But none that were really weird.