Character Creation For Beginners
They're the most important part of the story and must feel real for us to invest in their happily-ever-after. Jill Kemerer and Nicole Locke talk about creating romance characters, and share their top tips for the perfect hero and heroine!
I adore romance novels. There’s something so delicious about watching two people fall in love. I wish I could say creating unforgettable characters is a breeze, but I’d be lying. When I first started writing, I didn’t know much about character development. As a result, my heroines either came across as immature or irrational. And my heroes? They were jerks!
If your main characters are boring or unlikable, readers will put down your book. That’s why it’s so important to develop heroes and heroines who face difficult situations and react the way we wish we had the guts to do in real life. They aren’t perfect, but they aren’t so flawed they kick dogs for fun. They’re…real.
So how do writers accomplish this?
Main characters must have a combination of flaws and positive traits. Readers must have plenty of reasons to root for them despite their flaws. It all comes down to motivation. If the heroine is asked to be the maid of honor in her best friend’s wedding, readers expect her to jump up and down with giddiness as she accepts. But when they know the best man is her ex-boyfriend who left her for another woman five years ago, they understand why our heroine can barely choke out an, “Of course, I’d love to,” while secretly trying to find an excuse to be out of the country. Hey, they might be trying to find excuses for her to skip town, too!
But what about that best man? The reader is already angry at him—he left our wonderful heroine for another woman! The scumbag! Again, motivation is the key. The reader needs a good reason to account for his terrible behavior. And, frankly, he should regret his actions even if he would do it all over again given identical circumstances.
So we have a heroine with a good reason for not immediately falling in love with our hero. And we have a hero who regrets his past actions but something holds him back from simply apologizing and asking for a second chance. Maybe he thinks he doesn’t deserve her. Maybe he didn’t really leave her for another woman but can’t reveal why. The bottom line is that neither of them is willing to even think about dating the other. Except…they have wedding duties to fulfill, accusations to fling at each other, chemistry too strong to ignore.
They must make choices, and they must take action to get what they want. No one wants to read about someone drifting along, a victim of circumstance. The decisions the characters make are what keep the reader turning the page rather than throwing the book against a wall. They want answers. Will she forgive him? Will he admit why he hurt her so badly? Will he break her heart again? Will she let down her guard enough to trust him?
Both heroine and hero will challenge each other. They’ll make mistakes. Have setbacks. But by the end, they’ll have grown. The trials they’ve endured throughout the book have made them stronger. They will act bravely and be ready to fight for true love. And when the reader finally reaches the end, these characters won’t fade away. They’ll have given the reader a reason to smile…and to buy your next book.
Jill's latest release, The Rancher's Mistletoe Bride, is out now. For more information about her and her writing check out her website and her blog, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.
It’ll happen to you someday. While creating your latest heroine or hero, you draw a blank.
Oh, you have the name, and a good idea of what they look like, but what makes them tick? What are their mannerisms?
Now those are two different character traits. One is based on motivation (abandonment issues), the other is a characteristic (hair twirler).
No problem, you’ve lived some years; you can make things up. Except…you can’t. You’ve used up all your own motivations. You can only address that bully in school for so long. You’ve even used all your own characteristics from your love for cake to your twitchy right leg. You’ve got nothing left in you. So it’s time to use your friends and family and reveal their likes/dislikes and their mannerisms.
Except, you’ve already run the gamut of relations and friends. Even your great Aunt Maude, who reportedly had three teeth and chuckled, was used for that hag in book three. You could watch people at airports, but you know from that brief observance you can’t glean the depth your character deserves.
Something more is needed. Long ago, a fellow writer confessed to using Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs for creating characters. Easy enough, and incredibly helpful. Suddenly character motivations can be determined if you make their birthday in May, and know they are a Taurus. Your character can now be bull-headed and loyal.
Except Sun Signs, as brilliant and useful as it is, doesn’t address the breadth of mannerisms needed when creating characters. Neither does Love Signs, which explores the different signs in relationships.
To make your character distinct from every character you’ve written, you need even more depth. My tip? Birthday books.
These books are a wealth of quick information for 365 days of the year. That’s 365 distinct personalities. Some of them are detailed enough to give you motivation and characteristics. Do I recommend one book? No. Because you can’t get the depth you need from only one.
For example, I’ll use the birthday of November 11th. The astrological sign is a Scorpio. According to one book, it says: If sports isn’t your career, it should be your hobby. However, another book says: You’re defensive and suspicious. Both those reveals are gold when creating a character. And that character won’t match your other characters because they won’t share the same birthdate (I do recommend marking the birthdays you use).
So what happens when I’ve used up all the dates? I’ve thought of this, but I have no worries. I’ll probably be too doddering to remember, and will gleefully write them again.