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Monday, December 6, 2010


Bringing Characters To Life

So, I had one of those moments recently…Yes, one of those moments when your characters take over the story. ‘Well,’ you say, ‘the book is about them.’ ‘Yes,’ I answer, ‘but I’m the author. I’m supposed to be in charge.’ An important event in a book I was recently writing was supposed to happen many chapters later, but my characters insisted it happen in chapter four. And once I started into it, I realized how much better it would be for this to happen earlier rather than later for the plotline. So, I guess those characters of mine know what they’re talking about. Has this ever happened to you — your characters taking over the writing and in the end knowing better than you about their story? There is a reason for that. These characters have in a sense come to life and their desires have taken precedence over yours or mine.

Characters are the driving force within a story, making readers care to keep turning those pages. Think of your favorite books – what would they be without the heroes of those stories? I love Pride and Prejudice but with no Elizabeth Bennet there would be no life and no reason to keep reading. (“There are few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think well. The more I see of the world, the more I am dissatisfied with it; and everyday confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters...” E. Bennet Chapter 24)

A good writer will wrap a reader up into a world with characters who seem to be living breathing people instead of words on a page. To accomplish this, one of the first things you as an author must determine is what the desires of your characters are. He should want something—have a force that drives him. It doesn’t have to be something huge and larger than life (although it certainly can be). It just has to be something!

In my holiday romance, All I Want for Christmas, my heroine, Kathryn, wants to be an important journalist. She’s tired of writing ‘puff’ pieces. After receiving gifts from a Secret Santa, she makes it her mission to figure out who he is. And though she doesn’t know it, she also wants to be loved. She wants to move past the hurts of her past and create a family of her own. Great plotlines can come out of character desires.

Once you’ve set up your character’s desire(s), next you need to add some layers. Even a simple, one-dimensional character has desires. The villain wants the money at any cost. The baker must deliver his delectable creation to the wedding on time. They have desires just as much as any other character you’ve ever seen. What makes yours unique and different?

I wrote my third installment in my NovelTea series as a cozy mystery, I had the opportunity to create several secondary characters…ahem…suspects. Now, they could come across as merely archetypes if I didn’t add some human layers and complexity to them.  Every character has a history and that history affects who they are and how they behave. The reader will never know all of their past but you, the all-knowing author, do. Armed with that knowledge, you can make your characters deeper and more interesting. 

My government agent character, Grant Gerard, from my NovelTea books is a spy of the cocky variety and he knows it. If I just left him at that, he would be a boring, one-dimensional character. (And probably irritating) But in book two, a bit of his past leaks out and you can see the turmoil he has in talking about his family. He has fears too. His swaggering personality might just be a cover for his real feelings, after all, which makes him real and much more likeable. And to top it all off, he reads. Yes, he reads classic literature (my heroine’s favorite). That facet of his personality makes him my unique, cocky government agent.

Remember that villain I mentioned earlier. He has a past too. Perhaps he was a good kid who got wrapped up in the wrong crowd which led him astray. His father died when he was young, leaving him no option but to find a way to provide for his mother. His mother, ah yes, a good woman she is. It would disturb her to no ends if she knew what he was involved in which causes him to hide his activities and build the internal conflict within him. It is a necessity to find something that makes your character unique and play that up into the plot. Human complexity, yes, the spice of life.

So as you sit down to begin a new or even your first story, think to yourself, ‘What is my character’s desire—the burning need, aspiration or yearning that forces him into action?’ And along with that find a way to make your characters distinctive from any other. In the end, it will produce authentic characters which elicit stories about something—stories worth reading, stories worth remembering.

To enter my Christmas contest stop by my blog. It’s going on now until December 21st.

Cindy K. Green is a multi-published author with degrees in History and Education. Previously a middle school English & History teacher, she now homeschools her own children and writes in several genres: Inspirational, Contemporary, YA, Suspense and Historical romance. Find out more about Cindy and her books at You can also visit her on her Blog. In addition, she has a Homeschooling Blog and a Teen Fiction Blog. She can be reached by email at She’s on Myspace Facebook Twitter and Twitter for her YA friends. To join her Newsletter just send an email. The latest edition should be going out soon.


Cindy K. Green said...

Thanks for having me today, LASR. If anyone would like to receive a FREE READ prequel to All I Want for Christmas just join my newsletter. I'll be sending it out this Friday.

Celia Yeary said...

CINDY--yes, you are a busy young lady. That's the name of the game right now--I feel like I'm on a treadmill. But there are certain things I like to do, and one is to visit a blog and see what one of my friends is up to. LASR is just about the best place to be, and I wish you much luck and sales with ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS. Celia

Cindy K. Green said...

Thanks so much for stopping by all the blogs, Celia. I appreciate it!

Mona Risk said...

Great post Cindy. Yes every character needs to have a backstory, motivation and conflict. If I love and enjoy your hero and heroine I'll have trouble putting down their story. ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS will be part of all the books I want for Christmas. What a great title.

Big Mike said...

HI Cindy

One of your CB author buds here and I agree big time with your article. I remember in one story (TAINTED HERO) I felt so in luv with one of the characters, I couldn't kill her off like originally planned. She was just so real. I even go back and read my novels sometimes just to revisit old friends, I miss 'em so much. Yeah, I know, I'm weird (g)

Michael Davis (
Author of the year (2008 & 2009)

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Great post, Cindy - all the books I've ever loved have wonderful characterisation.

Maggie Toussaint said...

Those characters like to tell their own story. Sometimes its like wrestling a muddy pig to get them to do what you want, othertimes its best just to let them have their heads for a bit. I enjoyed reading about your charcters and the different layers you use to bring them to life.


Keena Kincaid said...

Hi, Cindy, great blog. I stopped fighting my characters' desire to run pig wild a long time ago. They'll do what they want to anyway. LOL!

I like how you layer your characters, though, and reveal their backstory slowly. I like it when I get to know a character bit by bit as I would a real person.

James L. Hatch said...

Boy are you right. My latest character is so outrageous she can't possibly be me, not to mention I'm male. Anyway, she walks all over customary dignity and is side-splitting to a fault. Her almost single-minded desire is her self-centeredness, and she's mostly oblivious to the feeling of others around her. I absolutely love her, but she created herself. I certainly didn't intend to make her a star.

marybelle said...

I love Christmas stories. 'All I Want For Christmas' sounds lovely.

Nancy J. Cohen said...

Good post. I fill out a character development sheet for my main characters with their GMC, i.e. short and long term goals, motivation, conflicts, dark secret, etc. A two word description with an adjective and a noun also helps. As for characters taking over, often that's been my secondary characters with memorable results. In my futuristic, Silver Serenade, the hero is a convicted murderer trying to prove his innocence. He's accompanied by his valet, an emphatic alien, who serves as a source of comic relief but also adds poignancy.

StephB said...

Cindy, you hit it on the head! A character has to have a driving force, something they want - other than the other person in a romance - that completes them.

Well done and good luck with sales!

liana laverentz said...

Absolutely, my characters have taken over the book, and it's always a treat to find out what they have to say. They know themselves so much better than I do!