Tag Archives: Characters

when we collide

My characters and I live in vastly different worlds.

My biggest problems are tests and papers and boys. I play volleyball at the beach, do homework in coffee shops, laugh with my friends until way too late.

“Wouldn’t that be nice?” my characters say.

They fight bad guys. They have secrets. They argue and push buttons and get in trouble. Although they struggle with the basic issues of humanity, just like I do, it’s on a completely different scale. Sometimes I’m jealous of them, sometimes they’re jealous of me, but mostly we’re just really different.


Sometimes I do feel like our worlds collide.

For example, when I see black trucks like these on the road, I feel like Ian (a main character from TIB) is inside — listening to rap and generally being a hot bad boy. So I love black trucks. They make me swoon.

Pianos, piano music, and concert halls remind me of Luke (also from TIB). Sophie’s little brother, he’s a master piano player who lives, breathes, and thinks music. I love listening to (and playing) piano music because no matter how annoying Luke can be, in all his little-brother-ness, he becomes something much bigger when he plays.

And lastly, if I ran, I would probably feel closer to Sophie (TIB’s main character), but I don’t run.

What kinds of things make you feel closer to your characters — like your world and theirs could collide?


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Was Juliet right?

We all know the quote:

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title.

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about names. I choose character names with everything from obsessive care to spur-of-the-moment inspiration. But no matter how the name comes to me, the right one always has this feel. This spark. This aha! perfect!

But…how much of a character is in their name? How much does a name define a character? If Edward had been named Jack or Collin or Evan, would he be the sizzling Cullen boy we know today?

Cutting to the point, I had to change one of my character’s names last week. Well, not just any one of my characters: my lovely favorite hero, the green-eyed quarterback of the query, Esmund Morrow. This was a big change. But it says a lot about names.

Names have feels. Jack is a hardcore name with punch. One syllable: Jack. Elizabeth is an upper-class sounding name that makes me think of princesses and England. Esmund is an old-fashioned name that just so happens to fit my character perfectly. To quote people who have read the book, it’s “hot, manly, and mysterious” just like he is.

Names have history. So this is self-explanatory. If you wanted to name your Byronic hero Heathcliff, that would be a no-no. Unless it’s satire or something, but that’s a whole other story. Same with naming your vampire Edward Cullen. It’s been done before, so just — don’t.

The thing is, most every name has history. Emilia and I were moaning about this last week over email: most every name has been used before and sometimes their histories and connotations go so far as to redefine them. Take Edward for example.

Why do I keep bringing up Edward Cullen? Just say Esmund and Edward and Esmund and Edward about twenty times fast, and I think you’ll see. I’ve known all along that Esmund sounds similar to Edward. It didn’t matter much to me because Esmund existed (to me) long before I read Twilight, but we live in a post-Twilight world. Even though I was sad when my agent very gently and very sadly brought this up, I do understand. We both mourned for a while — then realized that this is best.

So he is renamed. And last week, as I read through the new manuscript, all weird-feeling because Esmund was *gone*, I wondered if he really was gone. Has renaming him completely changed his character? Does Esmund’s character smell just as sweet (or hot, manly, and mysterious)?

I’ve come to my own conclusions, but first I thought I’d ask you guys. Do we put to much weight on names? Would your characters “retain that dear perfection” with different names? Or do names mean everything?

My conclusion: names do mean a lot. I mean, I could not have renamed Esmund Bill. No way. But Esmund isn’t defined by his name. There’s more to him than that two-syllable conglomeration of letters that unfortunately sounds too much like another. His hotness and manliness and mysteriousness stem from something deeper. And luckily, Ian captures them just fine, too. Maybe better.


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Fleshing out? Flushing out?

I don’t remember which it is. But whatever it is, it’s something you do to your characters before (or maybe while) you draft your book. Briefly, let’s look at a couple ways to make your characters flesh and blood — breathing and thinking and living human beings.

1. Know his story: So during your novel, your character solves a bank robbery and falls for the bank robber. But what happens before the story? Don’t just go for the general, like the name of their hometown and highschool sweetheart. Know detailed scenes. Know their thoughts. Know their lives. Sophie, the main character of THE INBETWEEN, doesn’t just show up in Morrow, Oregon and plunge right into a new life. She carries a story: a life defined by playing the violin and performing with her brother. I don’t use all the details I know about her life in the book, but they still add depth to her character.

2. See the world through her eyes: Spend some time walking around town, going through the grocery store, or just doing daily things while thinking of your character. How would he or she describe your day to his/her friend? What details would they highlight? Leave out? Laugh about? What kinds of similes and metaphors would they use? In one of my earlier novels, Patricia (the main character) was a cook. She saw everything through a cooking lens, so she used food imagery. Sophie plays the violin, so she sees and hears music everywhere.

3. (This one might be weird to some of you. So prepare yourself. I promise I’m not crazy; a thousand other writers will vouch for me) … Talk to them: Yep. For the longest time I thought people who had ‘conversations’ with their characters were kind of bonkers, at least until I got to that level myself. It took about two years of writing, but I finally reached the spot where I knew my characters so well that they really, really felt real to me, as real as if they might walk into my room and say hi. Then they started saying things. Arguing. Short example: Patricia the cook was supposed to like her friend Ben and get together with him by the end of the book. But her other friend Reed would not settle for sidekick-status. He was so insistent that I did major surgery on the book and let him have his way. It’s actually a better draft. So listen to your characters. They often know what they’re talking about.

Mostly, although you do want to know your characters inside and out, don’t be afraid of being surprised. Characters might not do what you want them to and might not become the people you want them to become, but that’s okay. It’s kind of exciting, actually, because someone like Reed (whom I had characterized as slightly-nerdy-sidekick) will completely blow your mind by turning out to be the slightly-nerdy-boyfriend instead. Cool.

I also use this character chart sometimes when I’m first fleshing/flushing out (I think it’s fleshing, actually) a character. It’s a good tool, but don’t let it become a prison. Let your characters stretch its boundaries as you write.


Filed under The Inbetween, writing