One of the best aspects of becoming a published writer is meeting other writers you would never have encountered otherwise. Even better is introducing them to my other friends. I met Jami through Black Opal Books, where we were some of the early authors. Jami has her own style, whether she’s writing kick butt heroines or wrangling husband, sons, and a very large dog.
Today she’s sharing insights into building real characters.
What Makes a Character Real?
One of the more interesting conundrums my critique group and I have pondered, is why do writers lean toward flawed characters?
Of course, me being me, I had to point out the only interesting character is one who is flawed. C’mon, no one likes reading about Perfect Polly and her Awesome, Astounding Life of Ease. Yet, can a writer hobble their character with too many flaws?
In my humble opinion, yep, we sure can. As a reader, I’ve encountered books where, when I hit the end, I needed some serious therapy. The character faced such overwhelming odds from themselves and their world that it was all I could do not to hand them a gun and just nod sadly.
As a writer, it’s a whole ‘nother set of problems. If your character doesn’t have a certain level of depth-psychologically speaking-giving them too many flaws or flaws that are not thought out, will lead you down a story path filled with frustrating dead-ends.
Our motley group of eight (because why have seven if you can do more?), has considered numerous challenges to place before our various protagonists, be it a solid box where magic can’t operate, a juice mixer that only works with certain souls, or a snowy day in New Orleans. The whole point of telling a story is to take your character, give them a few, significant hurdles, some hidden pits with stakes, and shiny pot of gold at the end of the wacky rainbow and see how they turn out. Are they better? Worse? A little more colorful or holey? It’s one of the more fun aspects of being a writer, coming up with some great challenges that utilize creative thinking to get around or under.
Yet the goal of these challenges is to shine a great, big spotlight on our character’s flaws (or give it a steroid shot). There is a fine balance a writer must navigate–creating a likable, flawed character a reader can connect with. That’s a great deal more difficult than it sounds.
As I’ve continued to develop my series and my characters, I discovered for my characters to gain a believable depth and become “real” to my readers, they must have characteristics readers can connect to. I’m not saying my readers are out there bedecked in leather and carrying sharp, pointy weapons with a commendable snarl on their faces (or maybe some of you do), but the concepts of self-doubt, trust, independence, finding your true strengths, accepting yourself, overcoming obstacles—those aspects have to ring true.
In my Kyn Kronicles, Raine McCord, my heroine in SHADOW’S EDGE and SHADOW’S SOUL, is a kick-ass, lethal woman, with quite a few hidden flaws (and some not-so- hidden). Even though she’s part of the Kyn (a collection of mythical races) and magic is a normal part of her life, she’s been forged by some very real trauma. Trauma that left some very lasting scars on who she is and how she deals with what life sends her way.
And she’s not the only character with a history. SHADOW’S MOON brings Xander, my female wolf shifter front and center. Quirky, strong and unique, she holds her own in a male dominated culture. However, underneath she faces hard learned insecurities—how to protect those you love, even when it’s not possible.
Writers write what they know so I’ve excavated my own experiences to ensure my characters become “real”. I must understand what drives my characters, what’s behind each of their decisions, and how will they handle the consequences of those decisions. If I don’t do that, I’ll end up with a very one-dimensional cast of characters.
Much like life, everything that happens to a person, every action, every reaction causes a chain reaction that echoes down the line. It may not be immediately, but it will come back and bring with it new and more demanding challenges. That’s what creating a believable world is about. You want your readers to keep reading, to find out what happens when…
I don’t have a magic formula or chart (especially since Math is not my forte) on how many flaws or how deep those flaws have to be for a character to work, but think about it. How boring is it if we aren’t challenged through out our life? Same with our characters. We’re picking up a book so we can jump into the most exciting point in a character’s life, therefore as writers, we must make sure that the challenges and flaws they must face will keep a reader hooked for the entire story. Readers (and I say this since I, too, read) want to see the main character emerge triumphant over evil and themselves at the story’s end. Or if not exactly where they should be, pretty darn close.
The only way to do that is to be true to who your characters are and how they react to others and with others.
What do you think? What about a character keeps you reading a story?
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Thanks Jami! Wow, lots to think about! Okay, I know you want to see how Jami puts all this into her books…show, don’t tell! And she really does show!
Jami Gray grew up on the Arizona-Mexico border, and was adopted at the age of 14 to suddenly become the fifth eldest of 37 children. She graduated from Arizona State University with a Bachelor’s in Journalism and three minors-History, English, and Theater. (Decision-making was not her forte at the time.) Shortly after marrying her techie-geek hubby (who moonlighted as her best friend in high school) she completed a Masters in Organizational Management from University of Phoenix Oregon.
Now, years later, she’s back in the Southwest where she’s outnumbered in her own home by two Star Wars obsessed boys, one Star Wars obsessed husband, and an overly-friendly, 105-pound male lab. Delving into the wild paranormal worlds where romance collides with suspense and Urban Fantasy is queen, manages to salvage her sanity. Or so we let her believe…
Shadow’s Edge: Book 1 of the Kyn Kronicles
Shadow’s Soul: Book 2 of the Kyn Kronicles, Paranormal Romance Winner of 2012 Shooting Star
Wrapped in Shadows (.5) part of Things That Go Bump For The Holidays—A Collection of Short Stories
Shadow’s Moon: Book 3 of the Kyn Kronicles, 2013 Golden Claddagh Finalist
COMING SOON (BUT NOT SOON ENOUGH!)
Coming in July 11th, 2014 from Muse It Up Publishing:
Hunted by the Past: Book 1 of the PSY-IV Teams
And Fall 2014 brings Shadow’s Curse: Book 4 of the Kyn Kronicles.
You can find all the buy links at:
Blurb for Shadow’s Edge:
Everyone fears what hunts in the shadows—especially the monsters…
It takes a monster to hunt one, and for Raine McCord, forged in the maelstrom of magic and science, she’s the one for the job. In a world where the supernatural live in a shadowy existence with the mundane, a series of disappearances and deaths threatens the secrecy of her kind and indicates someone knows the monsters are alive and kicking. Partnering up with the sexy and tantalizing Gavin Durand proves to be a challenge as dangerous as the prey she hunts.
When the trail points back to the foundation which warped Raine’s magic as a child, her torturous past raises its ugly head. Gavin and Raine sift through a maze of lies, murder and betrayal to discover not only each other, but the emerging threat to them and the entire magical community.
Blurb for Shadow’s Soul
Some nightmares are born of love…
Raine McCord has no problem taking down the monsters of the world, it’s one of the reasons she’s so good at her job. So playing bodyguard to Cheveyo, head Magi of the Northwest, as he consults with the Southwest Kyn should be an easy assignment. Unfortunately, simple task turns into a nightmare when Cheveyo is kidnapped and Raine is left for dead by one of the Kyn’s most feared beings, a Soul Stealer.
The Stealer’s attack leaves lasting wounds, undermining Raine’s confidence as a warrior and damaging her unruly magic. Her ability to heal her mind and spirit hinges on the one man who can touch her soul, Gavin Durand. Compelled to face the emotions raging between them, they must embrace not only their stormy relationship but their evolving magic to escape the twisted threads of murder and betrayal to find Cheveyo.
As Raine and Gavin come together and begin to unravel the complex web of secrets and hidden vendettas haunting the Southwest Kyn, they discover unsettling new truths that threaten their very existence.
Blurb for Wrapped in Shadows:
The magic of the holidays can be hell…
Celebrations abound during the holidays, but this Christmas an engagement celebration goes horrifically wrong. What appears to be a simple murder/suicide hides a vicious surprise. The type of gift Raine and Gavin, elite member of the Kyn, didn’t want humans to unwrap, because revealing the monsters in the shadows isn’t the way to spread holiday cheer.
Blurb for Shadow’s Moon
Even a wild heart can be broken…
It should have been the start of a bad joke, but days from a full moon Xander Cade, Tracker for the Northwest Motoki Pack, finds nothing funny about confronting an enraged Shifter in a crowded Portland nightclub filled with unsuspecting humans. The resulting carnage frays an already thin veil of secrecy shielding the supernatural Kyn community from public scrutiny, and ensures she can’t escape the one man she’s been determined to avoid, her Alpha and mate, Warrick Vidis. Dominating, protective and compelling, Warrick threatens her individuality like no other.
As the Northwest Alpha wolf, compromise isn’t in Warrick Vidis’s vocabulary, but when his reluctant mate, Xander Cade, refuses to leave off the hunt for a killer, he has no qualms using whoever or whatever necessary to protect her or his pack. A series of unusual deaths involving lone wolves, along with anonymous threats against him and his Pack, begin to jeopardize his normal steely control. Add in Xander’s continual reluctance to fully accept their Soul bond, and the line between intellect and instinct begins to blur, leaving him wondering if one woman’s love and acceptance will be enough to save both man and wolf.
As the danger escalates, threatening not just their Pack but those closest to them, Warrick and Xander must find a way to trust each other and accept their rare bond or risk losing everything-their pack, their friends and each other.
Blurb for Hunted by the Past:
Sometimes death is the only way to out run the past…
A reluctant psychic who can relive the past, a man well versed in keeping secrets, and a psychopathic killer enter a deadly game where the past determines the future.
Changing the past is an impossibility ex-Marine, Cynthia “Cyn” Arden, understands all too well. Struggling in the aftermath of a botched mission, which cost her two teammates, her military career, and a fledging relationship, she’s brought home by a panicked phone call. The psychic killer behind her nightmares has escaped military custody to hunt down the remaining teammates, one by one. Next on his murderous list–Cyn. Her only chance at survival is to master the psychic ability she’s spent years denying.
The killer’s game brings her face to face with the one person guaranteed to throw her off kilter—the unsettling and distracting man she left behind, Kayden Shaw. Once she believed he’d stand by her side, until he chose his job and his secrets over her. A choice that’s left the scars of the past etched deep on her mind and heart.
To survive this twisted game, Cyn must risk trusting her heart and accepting who and what she is, or lose not only her life, but the man she loves.