First class is here: Hey Fatty
I’ve written all kinds of heroes and heroines with all kinds of quirks. I’ve written about cheating spouses, runaways, fat heroines, drunks, abused men, slaves, revolutionaries, cops, fathers, sons, mothers and daughters, mercenaries, whores, control freaks, and *deep breath* cowgirls just to name a few. And I wish I could take full credit for the following pieces of advice but I can’t. I’m sure you’ve heard them before but I think they bear repeating.
1. Don’t be afraid to hurt your characters. Even in real life pain spawns growth. It should be that way in your book.
2. Every character is the hero of their own story — even the villain (I got that from Deb Dixon).
I don’t know how true this is, but someone once told me that in astrology, your sun sign is the face you show the world, but your moon sign is the real you. We all have a face we show the world–that includes your characters. And as your characters go through the story, they have to show more and more of their true self to the reader. Much like peeling away the layers of an onion, your character has to let the reader in. Let the reader see their hurts, their anger, their scars, so that the reader can cheer for them as they move toward their happy ending.
One of my most favorite ever books — ever — is WISHES by Jude Deveraux which was actually mentioned by someone in the SB blog comments. Firstly, this was the first book I ever read with a fat heroine (and I’m fat). Secondly, nothing that the “guardian angel” did automatically solved the heroine’s problem. Jennifer Armintrout left a comment at SB about people not just being overweight but being overweight IN THEIR MIND (forgive me Jennifer, I’m paraphrasing).
That, my friend, is characterization. The heroine in Wishes IS fat IN her mind as well as in body.
And being overweight is a part of her characterization. Characterization spawns motivation, and dare I say, conflict. Let me give you an example.
I once wrote a heroine who was fat in her mind (and of course, her body). The hero was in his 30’s, balding, cocky, kinda smug and frankly, HAWT as hell…helloooooooo Josh Lucas! I realized as I was writing their story that while my fat heroine (who had been left standing at the alter dumped for a stripper. And yes I’m hearing “In Love With a Stripper” in my head). Anyway Jade had to face her fears, and my hero had to face his fears/past as well. I know, duh right. Here’s what I had to work with:
Rowdy’s sister was in jail. Rowdy’s mom abandoned him. Rowdy’s dad, well, Rowdy killed his dad so he was dead. And Rowdy didn’t believe in God. His family was a complete cluster-fuck. He eventually had to not only confront his mother but also his sister. And I have to tell you when I wrote that confrontation between him and his mother, I cried.
Carrie Vaughn recently said on her blog, “If you load a gun on page one, you must use it by the end of the book.” I’m not sure where she got that from, but it’s brilliant in it’s simplicity.
If you are going to give your characters huge issues/flaws, like Rowdy’s, you must, at some point, make them address those issues and/or flaws. You can’t just arbitrarily give your characters some issues cuz hey, they sound good.
Why? Well, one, for character growth. If your character doesn’t grow, they can’t find that happy ending. And no happy ending tends to make readers very unhappy!
Two, Remember, everyone has scars. EVERYONE! Sometimes you just can’t see them. And remember the onion. We are the sum total of our experiences. The same holds true for your characters.
Three, Let me give you another example. While writing my current wip (which is actually two novellas), I realized that the underlying theme for both is honesty or a lack thereof. In fleshing out Will (HITTIN’ IT), the hero for my first novella, I decided to give him intimacy issues. Uh yeah, those kinds of intimacy issues.
But intimacy isn’t just about sex. It’s about honesty and about opening up.
Will lies because it’s a part of his job. But in the process, he’s cut himself off from people because he can’t be honest. And because he can’t be honest about his work, he finds himself unable to be open and honest in other areas of his relationships and voila! You have intimacy issues.
How did I make him grow? I made put him in a position where he couldn’t lie. Where he had to tell the truth because not only was his life at stake, the heroines life was at stake as well.
Now, let’s look at my heroine. She hates guns. Hates them. With a passion.
Care to take a guess at what my hero does for a living?
Now, let’s move on to John in the second novella. John can’t lie.
He can fudge the tiniest bit, but outright lying makes his tongue knot up like a pretzel.
Now, I set the stage for John’s inability to lie in NAILED, thinking, “Oh wow, that’ll be fracking hilarious!”
Yeah, it was hilarious and it set the stage for some hysterical confrontations and internal dialogue like the following:
This is Natasha. Our lovely bride. Isn’t her ring gorgeous?”
She held out her left hand for him to admire.
It was gaudy. And ugly and pretentious. It screamed, “I just sold myself for five carats and a summer house in Hilton Head,” or Palm Beach or wherever the hell people like Natasha vacationed. He swallowed the lump in his throat and muttered, “If you say so.”
Tish jabbed him in the side with her elbow. “John!”
“It’s big.” He nodded and forced his lips to curve upward into a smile. That, at least, wasn’t a lie.
But I also realized that, at some point, I had to find a DAMNED good reason for John’s inability to lie. One the reader would buy. And just as importantly, one I would buy!
About a third of the way through the story I realized that, at some point, John had to lie. Because for him, lying was character growth. And besides, EVERYONE lies at least once in their life. And then at about the two-thirds mark, I realized that, not only did John have to lie but his heroine, Tish, had to tell the truth.
My point being this: Be very very careful when you load that gun, people, because at some point, you have to pull the trigger. Conflict, while sometimes funny, also has to be resolved.
So, to recap: Don’t be afraid to hurt your characters. Dig deep and remember the onion. Try to tie characterization, motivation and conflict together. Make sure you have a solid reason for the quirks* you give your characters–try to think of at least two reasons as well as how that quirk (or quirks) plays into your story.
Now, let’s talk about your characters. Can you tell me about the quirks you gave them and how it played (or can/will play) into the story?
*I’m using quirks for lack of a better word.