Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Building Characters

How do you build your character’s body and mind?

The day after St. Patrick’s day, I’m thinking about four leaf clovers.
Luck found in green leaves, or an historical belief found in a little piece of DNA given to a plant.

What about our characters’ ancestors and their beliefs?

We look at our families, we may wonder, where did this nose come from and why this nose, this chin or these cheekbones, those ears, that disposition, that kindness, that mean streak? And of course part of what makes us, us and our characters has been passed down through the generations. While other parts that make us individuals are from our environment, experiences and support we received or didn’t receive.
How much do we need to think about when we write our characters?

I’ve just finished reading three books and each of them had characters with devastating childhoods that shaped the characters until the day they died. But love also found a way in through the cracks and filled some holes. Others, not filled to the bottom but a skim overtop enough to go on for another day with hope.

I’m not sure I have given enough thought to my characters’ ancestors. My stories are set in Saskatchewan, Canada. A new land for immigrants but an old land for indigenous peoples.

Because it is a new land for immigrants, many of the contemporary characters can be second and third generation immigrants, with all of the angst that comes along with leaving an old way of life, leaving community and traditions behind. The grandparents, parents, and siblings each finding a new way to be. These adjustments take their toll.

When we think of hair color, Red for instance, “ScotlandsDNA believes that everyone who carries one of 3 variants of the red-hair gene is a direct descendant of the first redhead ever to have it – two variants originating in West Asia around 70,000 years ago, and a younger variant originating in Europe around 30,000 years ago….Probably the best known red-head in Britain today is also of royal, and R1b, stock – Prince Harry (pictured at the top). While serving with the British Army in Afghanistan, he was known by his comrades – due to his hair colour and his status as a high profile target – as ‘the Ginger Bullet Magnet‘.” 

The question of course is, is this important to determine a character? I believe that it is one small point. If your character has red hair and there aren’t any others in the family, does that mean that there is always a suspicion that someone had in illegitimate affair, that someone isn’t truly a member of the family? And if this is the case, how does it affect that character? Do they become stronger, compliant, live-up to the stereotype of a person quick to anger? If not them, then if their parent was the one who felt on the outside, what did they pass down to their child?

Research also shows that phobias and fears can be passed down generations. So do our characters begin to understand and are strong enough to dig into causes that perhaps deter them from their goals and move forward?
I believe with each added tidbit of knowledge we have about our characters, we give our readers a deeper experience, an investment into the outcome of their story.

Many years ago I read this in a Readers’ Digest: (an anecdote from my memory.) A daughter watched her mother cut off the end of a roast beef before she put it in the pan. She asked why her mother did this. Her mother said, because her mother always did it. They decided to call the grandmother and ask. The grandmother replied, the roasts were always too big for the pan she had.

A character can be the daughter, asking questions wanting to know the reasons for certain reactions and working toward a change.

Good luck on creating your characters and giving your readers the best experience they can.

Annette Bower
Author of contemporary romance novels set on the Saskatchewan prairie. www.annettebower.com

Excerpt of Fearless Destiny by Soul Mate Publishing to be released April 2016.

      Turning onto the highway that led into Apex, Tiffany George saw an abandoned gray compact car. Her father’s voice rang in her ears, Don’t drive by stalled cars on the highway. You never know who needs you. Slowing to a stop, she grabbed her flashlight and tucked her cell phone into her pocket.
     She expected to see an empty vehicle. Tiffany felt like an unprepared Girl Scout when the light illuminated dark eyes. A hand pushed through black hair. His discomfort was obvious. His shoulders braced against the seat.
      “Can I help you?” she called through the window.
      “I’m not sure.” His jaw muscles tensed, while he shaded his eyes against the flashlight.
      “I’m going to open the door.” Her forearms and biceps bulged, her sandals skidded on gravel but the driver door wouldn’t budge.
      “Locking system jammed.” His speech was slurred.
      “That doesn’t happen. Have you been drinking?” She sniffed for alcohol.
      “No. Pain.”
     “What kind of pain?” She watched him with first-responder alertness. “Heart attack?”
      He bent down toward the floor. Growing up as her father’s helper in the family plumbing business, Tiffany knew her way around vehicles.


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you Victoria. I appreciate tweets.

  2. Great post. I've set my newest romance suspense paranormal in Saskatchewan! Good luck with your book.

    1. Susanne, Saskatchewan is a great place for paranormal activity. Such open spaces and many strange events that appear to have no explanation. I look forward to your book.

  3. Good post, Annette! Your April release, Fearless Destiny, sounds interesting.

    1. Hello Darlene,
      My April release may be delayed a bit, but it will appear. We are just working on the cover now. Another round of edits. You know how it goes. All the steps have to be taken.

  4. HI Annette: Interesting post and good reminder to work on more extensive back history for our characters. Sometimes it's easy to slide by that step. I want to know what happened this guy! good excertp

    1. Hi Gini,
      I'm glad that I have your interest in Will.
      And yes, it is easy to side step parts of our characters. The mechanics of showing rather than telling, throws a wrench into our works, but makes it interesting for the writer and the reader.

  5. Hello, Thanks for commenting on my post. I'm always interested in people's makeup and therefore it has to be part of our character. I was in Spain recently and walked with a man (another story) who lived in the city. I asked him if it was safe to walk in the downtown. He said that although he'd lived there all of his life he didn't look like a Spaniard and hadn't had any trouble. Of course the question could have been, "Why didn't he look like a Spaniard?" But our brief conversation was over and we parted ways.

  6. Good reminders about looking into a character's past. One of my current stories involves a Swedish immigrant to the American plains. I did make a point of developing what her parents' lives were like in Sweden because she was 12 when the family emigrated so she remembers how life used to be. So far, my beta readers are enjoying the detail. Stories are richer when authors take the time to dig deep.

    1. Hello Linda, Good for you. It probably also explains reasons why your character is the way she is.