Tuesday, June 9, 2009

How I Write Characters

By Robin Kaye

Everyone wants to know how I come up with my characters, and honestly, I wish I knew. For the most part, scenes pop into my head and the characters are already there. I know them and they’re almost real to me. I know, it sounds as if I need therapy. When I’m deep into writing a book, I find myself talking about the characters to friends, and it takes them an embarrassingly long while to figure out that I’m not talking about real people. These are fictional characters.

I’ll never forget when Dr. Mike Flynn, the hero of Too Hot To Handle popped into my head. I was writing a scene in Romeo, Romeo—it was a phone call between the hero Nick and his Mike, his best friend, who was supposed to be a little secondary character. By the end of that conversation, I’d fallen head over heels in love with Mike, and I knew I had the hero for my second book. I knew everything there was to know about him. I knew which deodorant he wore, that he didn’t have time to date, that he worked his way through college and medical school, that he fought to get into the best schools, get scholarships, the best residency, the best fellowship, and buy into the best practice. His spare time (what there was of it) he spent catching up with his friends and would always meet Nick’s girlfriends who would then run to him for solace after Nick dumped them.

With Annabelle Ronaldi, the heroine of Too Hot To Handle, it was a bit more difficult. Annabelle and her sister had a complicated relationship in Romeo, Romeo—that’s the way it is with sisters in my experience—a woman can be nasty to the her sister and wonderful to the rest of the world. It’s all about the family baggage. So when I was writing Annabelle in Romeo, Romeo, I kept wondering why she was acting the way she was. There was a back story there that I had to dig out. Who knew she’d been compared to Rosalie all her life and found lacking, or that she’d had a whole other life in Philadelphia her family never knew about? The woman was strong and wounded, but most of all, she was emotionally shut down.

Now some characters in my books are amalgams of people I know. Aunt Rose, the smart-mouth old psychic aunt is a little like a great aunt of mine. She was the one who used to walk behind me at the dinning room table and give me a smack upside the head if I said something she didn’t approve of. When she was off her chair, I automatically leaned forward hoping I was out of the line of fire. She had a sharp tongue, was always quick with a comeback, seemed to know everything, never seemed surprised when odd things happened, and she commanded respect. She was one of those strong women everyone feared just a little bit—we called her the Colonel behind her back. I always wondered if she was psychic so, in my character, I mixed her personality traits with a psychic friend of my mother’s who ratted me out to my mother for years before I ever met her. Don’t worry, I made sure she’d do the same for me with my kids, but at least I’m nice enough to warn them about her.

Some characters, like Vinny, the father figure to all my heroes, is someone I always wished I knew. He has everything I love about men like him, a good family man, with a deep sense of loyalty, and a slightly twisted understanding of men and women. He has an unschooled wisdom I find fascinating. He’s funny, shallow and deep all at the same time, and he’s so much more than you’d think if you were ever to meet him.

Then there are characters like Becca, our heroine’s best friend. She’s an amalgam of several women who I knew when I lived on the Main Line of Philadelphia. She’s a strong, reluctant debutante who seems to have the perfect family, wealth, good looks, talent, even a great personality, but she is very insecure in one or two areas of her life. For Becca, she can tell everyone what’s wrong with his or her life, and she’s usually right, but she has no idea what is missing in hers. She finds things such as romantic relationships to be difficult, so she avoids them like the plague.

I love writing romance because I’m fascinated by people. I want to know why a person is the person he or she is when we meet him or her in the beginning of the book. I also want to see how finding the right man or woman can open people up, bring them joy they never imagined, and make them better people than they would be alone.

What do you look for in characters and in romances?

16 comments:

  1. Just started THTH - my treat for finishing edits.

    I love that voyage of discovery when you're learning about the characters. I remember when I wrote Reel's self-revelation in IOHH, and just kind of sat back and went, "ooooooh!" That explained why he was the way he was.

    Can't wait to see Annabelle unfold (I already love Mike - how he is with her in that opening scene after they wake up... sigh.)

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  2. Robin, you said much of exactly how I feel. First, romance novels are voyages of discovery to great characters. It's all about the people. But readers don't realize, I think, that the writer is just the explorer, taking that voyage of discovery first, finding out what makes these people tick, matching them up, then giving them to the pubic.

    Great blog entry!

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  3. I love figuring out how people tick by what they say and do, not so much what we are told about them. THTH sounds like fun. Looking forward to getting through this crazy month at work and getting back to reading!

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  4. Hello, Robin! :) To answer your last question, what do I look for when I read romance, I agree 100% with what you wrote: "I want to know why a person is the person he or she is." Thanks for the great post! :)

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  5. Hi Robin,
    I enjoyed your blog on creating characters. The beauty is there isn't any one true and tried way, like children, our characters appear when they're ready and however they decide, often, much to our chagrin. :) Take care and I wish you continued success!

    Diana Cosby
    www.dianacosby.com
    Romance Edged With Danger

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  6. I love how you talk about your characters, Robin. A half a sentence and they're real, breathing people.

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  7. Great post, Robin! I think you covered just about everything! I love character driven books. Must be the reason I LOVE romance books and sounds like your story has just the kind of people I like to get to know.
    Amelia

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  8. I love how your characters are real, and how you talk about them to others the same way. Sometimes only another writer understands, but I find that good friends want to know too. It's their way of encouraging you, and they some times have some great ideas to add.

    Back in the seventies and eighties, I think I read romance novels for pure escapism. I just needed some "Calgon, take me away" time from being a busy wife, mother, daughter, student, employee, etc. Now I find that my favorite novels have a message, or give me a gift. Your gift to me, and to others, is that you make me laugh, and your female characters are not perfect. Nope, no bodice ripping characters in your books (although I don't think they would mind if the occasion called for it! lol)

    I fell in love with Dr. Mike in Romeo, Romeo, and can't wait to see what he does in your new novel. Life has been getting in the way of my reading, darn it, but I think I'm going to have more time now. And I can't wait to read it. It's laying on my coffee table, along with the newest Nora Roberts book and the newest JD Robb book, and Lavinia Kent's book. A few others are there, but yours is next. I'm caught up in Karen Rose's Kill For Me at the moment, and it's taking me longer than usual to read it. How dare life get in the way!

    Smooches, girlfriend! You're the tops!

    Debra Key Newhouse writing as Debra McGill

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  9. I've read both of your books, Robin, and the back stories are interesting on each of them. I really liked the idea of the psychic aunt. Wish I'd had one....

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  10. "Wait. Is this a REAL person? Or is this one of yours?"

    I have a friend who asks me this, in exactly this way, so I had to laugh when I read your post.

    Of course this is a real person--to me at least. If not, there woul be no way to make him or her real to the reader. You, my friend, have 'real people' down to an art form.

    Like you, my characters introduce themselves to me fully formed. Sometimes there's a bit of digging to discover the 'why' of things, but that's true with everyone we meet, real or imagined.

    And sisters? Sisters can get away with a lot because, at the end of the day, like her, love her, hate her, wonder what planet your parents were on (or what drugs)when they conceived her,she's still your sister.

    {{{Hugs}}}

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  11. I think what I look for in characters are two of Deb's "hooks:" A heroine I can relate to, and a hero I fall in love with!

    Even in non-romance books, I think the lead character has to have a certain level of "attractiveness"-and not just in the physical sense... a character has to draw you in, and now matter how unbelievable the situation, I need to believe that the character would actually do or say something :)

    Great blog post, Robin!

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  12. Hi everyone!

    Thanks for dropping by and thanks for all the compliments! You are all so wonderful for my ego. ABCxyz, I got an email from someone who couldn't figure out how to get through blogger to post and she agreed with you 100%.

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  13. You're tempting me to try my hand at romance. I like people, and the voyage of discovery when characters start revealing more of themselves.

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  14. Robin, pretty good description of how characters appear in my head--what were you doing in my head, hmmm?

    I've always found people a fascination, what makes them tick, why they react the way they do. A big bug-a-boo with me is characters that don't act or react realistically. It pulls me right out of the book. I've put books down when that's happened.

    Wishing you much success. :-)

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  15. Super post, Robin! I love throwing conflict in the characters' paths and then seeing how they deal with it. Kind of like real life! :(

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  16. Robin,

    Just catching up on things. Loved the post. Now that I'm closed to finished for my first manuscript, characters are popping in my head for the sequel

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