by Katherine Reay, @Katherine_Reay
Our ability to engage our readers, surprise, delight, antagonize, or even offend them when we want, all comes down to our characters. Compelling characters make a compelling story — and keep readers wanting more. Even if you write fast-paced, plot-driven fiction, no one wants to head down that road unless the character is worthy of the chase.
So what do we do to create such characters? Ones who “jump off the page” and keep the reader glued to their ups and downs late into the night?
I offer these suggestions:
- We feel multiple emotions simultaneously – so they must too! When writing Lizzy & Jane, I realized you could look at your sister and feel (off the top of my head) five emotions instantly: fierce love, equally fierce dislike, jealousy, loyalty and adoration – especially if you’re the younger sister. Use that! Layer the emotions for your character just as you feel them layered within yourself. And the more those emotions conflict, the better! They’ll bring depth to the reader’s experience and the character’s substance.
- Look at all those emotions (even list them) then choose any but the most obvious. The reader will feel that one instinctively. Again, in Lizzy & Jane, Lizzy was angry with her sister. She felt betrayed. And, while those two emotions came through often, it was more interesting and in many ways more realistic when I explored Lizzy’s adoration, hero-worship, and yearning for Jane’s acceptance and love. Anger was the lens through which the reader found those softer and more vulnerable feelings. By bringing those emotions out, through and beneath the anger, I also increased the micro-tension between the sisters – that’s the push and pull beneath what’s written on the page.
- Make sure what your characters do is an extension of who they are. I use profession, dress, reading preferences, food tastes, decorating, season, quirks, hobbies, and more… Everything is planned to express an aspect of character, either to the positive, the negative or the unexpected. When writing, you have tons of descriptive detail to lay out, don’t let a single size, color, shape or nuance go to waste.
- Take a blank page occasionally and “talk” to your character. You don’t need to make it formal, but do write it down. As a writer, that’s how you think and how you communicate – so make sure you don’t just chat, make sure you write down that chat. By doing this, you’ll learn more about your character’s cadence of speech, inner thoughts, and expressions. It’s an interesting exercise and can reveal things that surprise you… Only by doing this, late in the manuscript process, did I learn how truly angry Sam Moore (Dear Mr. Knightly) was by all that happened in her childhood. This changed later scenes and made the story more authentic to her voice.
- Have fun! I end every post with this because it’s so important. Enjoy your characters – even the “bad” ones. The more you enjoy them and explore them, the more real and expressive – and unexpected – they become. And that’s more fun for you and for the reader.
Thanks for spending time here with me today. Please find me and connect on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or my website at www.katherinereay.com. I’m always out and about…
Mary Davies finds safety in her ordered and productive life. Working as an engineer, she genuinely enjoys her job and her colleagues – particularly a certain adorable and intelligent consultant. But something is missing. When Mary’s estranged childhood friend, Isabel Dwyer offers her a two-week stay in a gorgeous manor house in England, she reluctantly agrees in hopes that the holiday will shake up her quiet life in just the right ways.
But Mary gets more than she bargained for when Isabel loses her memory and fully believes she lives in Jane Austen’s Bath. While Isabel rests and delights in the leisure of a Regency lady, attended by other costume-clad guests, Mary uncovers startling truths about their shared past, who Isabel was, who she seems to be, and the man who now stands between them.
Outings are undertaken, misunderstandings play out, and dancing ensues as this company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation, work out their lives and hearts.
Katherine Reay is the award-winning author of Dear Mr. Knightley, Lizzy& Jane and The Bronte Plot, an ALA Notable Book Award Finalist. Her latest novel, A Portrait of Emily Price, released in November 2016 and received Starred Reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and a Romantic Times TOP PICK!All Katherine’s novels are contemporary stories with a bit of classical flair. Sheholds a BA and MS from Northwestern University and isa wife, mother, rehabbing runner, former marketer, and avid chocolate consumer. After living all across the country and a few stops in Europe, Katherine now happily resides outside Chicago, IL.