Special Note: I’m working on a monthly contest for my readers’ group (aka newsletter subscribers). I’d do it more often except … I’m lazy. So, the April t-shirt winner is, drum roll, Jeremy of the UK! May offering TBD.
Several people have asked me about the creative process behind the characters in my books. The biggest challenge any author faces is making distinct, individual characters. Many writers, especially TV writers, fall back on racial and ethnic stereotypes to distinguish individuals. It’s not original, but it saves time.
Having grown up surrounded by international architecture students, I’ve long known that despite our external differences, we’re basically the same creatures. We all crave the adoration of our peers, we want to move up in social and economic class, our hopes and dreams for our children exceeds our own achievements, and so on. What defines us is how we interact with others in specific situations, which is influenced, but not dictated, by our culture, race, sexuality, and environment.
My first book did not contain the most distinct individual characters. While Tania shined, the rest were muddier. I resisted stereotypes and committed myself to improving my writing skills. BRING IT (book #2) marked some improvement and ELEMENT 42 (#3) achieved another step forward.
To find inspiration, I observe people. A few years ago, I traveled a lot and observed people on jets and in hotels. Now I hike every morning and observe my fellow hikers. My climb is a mountain near the center of Phoenix that draws a diverse crowd, not just every race but ever socio-economic strata is represented. Wealthy entrepreneurs and the unemployed, conservatives and socialists, the healthy and the obese, singles seeking romance, couples growing old together, all engage in a friendly, and often crowded, social scene.
None of my characters are based on one individual. They’re a composite, stitched together from the travelers and hikers I’ve observed. The less you know about someone, the easier it is to imagine him/her reacting to a given situation.
How would you react to a threat against your life? What about the woman who announced, filed, and completed her divorce after finding her husband’s profile on a dating site, only to discover through filings that his photo had been used without permission by a stranger? Would she offer a rational, logical reaction? Or would she become deranged? Or collapse in a heap unable to cope?
Twice in my life, I’ve been threatened. Once, a man pulled into a parking lot behind me and started waving a pistol while screaming at me. It was clear to me he’d mistaken me for someone else but he was not rational. So I yelled back at him. Not the smartest thing I’ve ever done, but the instant I stood up for myself, he recoiled, jumped in his car and left. My guardian angel is still shaking her head.
Our actions and reactions define us. How would the father and son who’ve hiked together every Saturday for a decade react to one of them being kidnapped? Would the woman who flies to LA on Mondays, and complains about the seat space every time she boards, expect to be fired from her dream job for negativity? Could the affable banker who always smiles and shakes hands on the trail ever be coerced into stealing millions?
Okay, that last one was a cheap shot. But the rest are the character traits I mold into fictional characters. For my work in progress, working title DARK MONEY, I’m working on more distinctive attributes and deeper back stories. Who are the characters who’ve stood out in your life?