When my very first beta reader said she’d found herself screaming ‘No don’t do that!’ at my female lead I was mighty impressed with my little old self. Not only had I created a believeable character but I’d put her in a situation where my reader was emotionally invested in the outcome… and we were only half way through.
So how did I come up with such an amazing character?… Hmm…
But didn’t I just picked up a pen?
Imagining the character came naturally to me. How she looked? How she dressed? Where she worked? Where she lived? Her world built around the scenarios I put her in. So lots of little details, like she’s a single mother with a network of close crazy friends who all have a story of their own to tell, came naturally too.
But it was the appearance of anonymous flowers and chocolates on Valentine’s Day that began to build her character. The way she softened into the memory of a lost love. The chance first meeting where she’d accused said love of being a stalker and then captivated by his eyes she lost all ability to string words together. The way she sighed and then fell backwards through the door at the end of their first date! I discovered she had a fondness for luxury ice cream that night. The way she told him never to darken her door again when he told her that he was married. So I guess I learned a lot from three meetings with one guy. A) She’s got a defence mechanism in her quick tongue and it gets her in trouble. B) She’s got a soft centre though she’d never let anyone know. And C) She’s honourable, no matter how much it hurts her, she’d never do anything to hurt anyone else if she could avoid it.
So now I knew something about the person she was going to be I could put her into an unusual situation and see how she’d handle it. I got to the depths of her emotions, the good and the bad. She’s quick witted but she also developed the temper of a volvano. With one scene I was able to get real insight to her personality and it became evident that outwardly she’s a wall of steel but inside she’s as fragile as glass. As the novel developed it also became obvious that she’s motivated by her desire to do exactly what others say she cant and her need to give her daughter the happy carefree childhood she deserves.
This particular character and novel has never had a plan, they never really had a beginning middle or ending when I begun, they’ve written their own destiny. (My tip for writer’s block: grab a pen and a pad of paper and let the words carry the character wherever. One of the most significant scenes was created from a freewrite session such as this. Boy did I have fun that day!) After I’d built her world I enjoyed destroying because the real challenge was figuring out how ‘she’ was going to put it back together.