Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Guest author LaConnie Taylor-Jones: Creating Characters Readers Will Love

LaConnie Taylor-Jones blends her enthusiasm for teaching health, social responsibility and social justice with her love for the romance genre. In a little over four years she’s authored three full-length novels. In 2008 Ms. Taylor-Jones was the recipient of the Romance Slam Jam Emma Award for Debut Author of the Year for When I’m With You.

A few weeks ago, one of my readers e-mailed me. Her query was simple: how do you create the characters in your stories? That’s a simple question, right? Well for me, it’s a little more complex than simply creating a character. My goal as an author is to create characters readers will love!

Here’s the analogy I go through each and every time I sit down to develop the characters in my stories:

Suddenly, you receive a call with the news that your best friend has eloped with someone she’s only known for a couple of months. What would your reaction be? Would you slump to the nearest chair, flabbergasted and say, “Oh, my God, she did!” Or would you confidently say, “Sorry, you must be mistaken.”

Your answer will be based on how well you know your best friend.

Now I offered that scenario to you so you’d better understand the fundamental basis I use to create my characters. I take the time to become intimately acquainted with their personalities. And trust me, it’s time well spent. If at any point during the writing process I get off track with the direction my characters should go, I stop and get back in tune with them based on my complete and unequivocal knowledge of their persona.

My books are character driven. Long before I sit down to plot the story my characters will be featured in, there are three tools I use to truly understand them once they’ve given me a sneak peek into their persona: intuition, questions and habits.

Allowing my intuition to take over helps me to go far beyond merely providing readers with the physical descriptions of my characters, but helps me give the reader the same insight into the character that I have. In order words, I allow my characters to speak to me. This process helps me to get to know them as I would my best friend. I know how they dress, what they will say, and most importantly, what they will and will not do in certain situations. Also, I understand their strengths and weakness, what they fear and what event will spark them to rise up and fight like hell. Now is there a set amount of time for this process? Frankly, for me there isn’t. However, when I can honestly say I know my characters the way I know my best friend, then I’m ready to settle down and write the story.

Next are a few of the questions I pose to each of my characters:

• What do you want readers to know about your life?
• What do you want readers to know about you at the end of the story?
• How would you explain your greatest fears in life to readers?
• What way will you show readers how you’ll overcome the conflict in the story?

And finally, the ever important idiosyncrasies of my characters take center stage. Understanding this aspect of my characters helps me explain to readers the reasons for their quirky mannerisms or their annoying habits. I want readers to see my characters as actual people they want to love.

Now someone will read this and say, why bother going through this long, drawn-out process. And to those critics, my justification is simple: if I don’t love my characters enough to truly get to know them, who will?

Until next time – stay well and be blessed!



Farrah Rochon said...

How wonderful to have you here at Novel Spaces, LaConnie!

What a fabulous post! I'll admit that I don't spend much time in the beginning on characterization, but with my newest work-in-progress, I decided to do some character assessment and it has made a huge difference while writing the story. I'm going to incorporate some of your questions into my character interview! Thanks!

Sean D. Young said...

Great post LaConnie! I'll have to say that I love the way you go about characterization.
Thanks for sharing!

Jewel Amethyst said...

Wonderful post! It's something I too discovered can drive a great story: knowing your characters. In addition to character sketches, I will make sure I incorporate some of your methods.


LaConnie said...

Hi Everyone:

First, let me extend a very special thanks to Liane and my DST Soror, Stephanie for the invitation to guess blog today. Hopefully, I can come back again. Please…please…pretty please??

And many thanks to my old friend, Farrah, and new friends, Sean and Jewel for weighing on the post.

Characterization is so important to any story!! I’m of the firm belief that regardless to whether you have a great storyline, if the characters are weak, it will negatively impact the story.

Have a good one.

Renee Williams said...

Characterization is definitely important to any story. It's one of the main things that really draw me into the story. When I can get into a book and start talking to the characters, out of love or hate, then for me, that's a great story! If I can feel the pain and anguish, or the love and happiness, that the characters feel, then that's a good story. And I think that the only way that can happen is when authors take the time, as you LaConnie, to fully develop their characters. said...

Excellent post LaConnie!! I read a lot of books. And yet, so few novels today strike a serious chord in me. Why? Well, most of the time the characters are not compelling enough to make me "want" to remember them long after I've read the last sentence and closed the book. When I read fiction, I want to feel things when I read and if a character or characters can make me react (and this includes those characters we love to hate too) to what he or she is doing and saying, then the author has hit the mark with me for sure!

Stefanie Worth said...

Welcome to Novel Spaces, LaConnie! I love your post and your character questions.

One of the aspects about my critique group that I've relied on over the years is their reaction to a character's behavior. I truly value a comment that says, "that doesn't seem like something she'd do" because that tells me they've gotten to know that character. At that point, I either need to fix the behavior or explain why the character has deviated from its established personality. All great exercises in storytelling.

Thanks for dropping by!