Hey Fatty Pt Deux – Did You Load the Gun?

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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.

16 thoughts on “Hey Fatty Pt Deux – Did You Load the Gun?

  1. Pingback: Amie Stuart ~ On the Back Porch | Hey Fatty

  2. FYI, Vaughn got it from playwright Anton Chekov. It’s known as Chekov’s Rule and is usually summarized thusly, “If you show a gun on the wall in act one, it had better go off in act three.” Same thing. *G*

    I’m all about screwing with their heads. I shy away from physically mauling my characters because it doesn’t do much, usually, unless it’s a plot point that he needs to move slower so twist his ankle.

    My latest hero was a good guy – a hundred years ago. Then he was cursed to be nightspawn and hunt other beasties. A girl is supposed to lead him to the right beast to slay so he can break the curse, but the mage who cursed him said, “See how time wears you” and indeed, one hundred years later, the hero doesn’t think there IS a girl. Let alone this pretty one wandering in the woods with potential magical powers. So he BRINGS HER TO THE DARK MAGE. Yah, issues much?

  3. Once I know my characters, I figure out what is the best thing that could happen to them and set them on that path. At the same time, I figure out what is the absolute worst thing that could happen to them . . . and I make it happen.

    I’m editing/polishing the most recent book I sold to Samhain. The hero is smart (like, rocket-science smart), almost pretty-boy handsome, athletic, has always been successful, top of his class . . . until as he puts it, he “put on that six-pointed star and everything went to hell.” He’s on a learning curve and as a result, is the department screw-up. The harder he tries, the worse it gets, and now he has to deal with everyone’s perception of him as the kid who screws up.

    The heroine is a decade older than he is, late thirties to his mid-twenties. She’s also smart, pretty, owns her own business, but is that one who straddles the line between good-girl and scandal-waiting-to-happen in a small town. She’s the high school salutatorian who chose not to go away to school but did community college and worked her way into being able to own her bar. Her closet belief is that she never quite measures up to those around her (a layers of Southern society thing). She picked the wrong guy and was engaged off-on to him for most of her adult life, until he married a younger woman while away on a gambling trip. She does the rebound with a cop she’s known forever, and lo and behold, the next thing she knows, he’s dating a younger woman, too. So Miss Not-Good-As-Everyone-Else suddenly has two physical examples of that.

    Mr. Department-Screw-Up thinks she’s everything. Except he knows her perception of him is basically as a boy-toy to help her move beyond those recent romantic disappointments.

    Miss Not-Good-As-Everyone-Else can’t see why he’d want her long-term when he’s the county heart throb and could have any younger woman he wanted . . .

    Oh, my God, I’m getting wordy. I promise, it all works into a story layered with multiples themes about how other’s actions have consequences and when life happens, you can fight it and exhaust yourself, or roll with it and deal.

  4. >>It’s known as Chekov’s Rule and is usually summarized thusly,

    Thanks Jess!

    My latest hero was a good guy – a hundred years ago.

    I love it–and I’m a sucker for dark, twisted fairy tales!

  5. LInda…….don’t be surprised if I tell you that you made perfect sense! Srsly!
    Not only is revealing character like an onion, sometimes (as I know you know LOL) unfolding/untangling plot is like the onion as well.

    *sniffs the air*

    Onion rings are starting to sound kinda good.

  6. I promise, it all works into a story layered with multiples themes about how other’s actions have consequences

    I actually started this women’s fic book and the main character is an older man who thinks his life is perfect. He’s the father of four sons and in law enforcement. Then his wife leaves and over the course of the book he finds out nothing is as it seemed (TO HIM). It’s this big honking knot involving the hero, his new love and five kids, and the only way to really sort it out is to go back to the beginning.

  7. Ames, I think we’re twins from another life. In the book I’m not thinking about because it’s down to one agent who just went past her 4-week exclusive period (I’m looking for that polite R via postal mail every day . . . darn it, I’m afraid of my mailbox — how twisted is that?!), the heroine is very prickly. She’s cold, hard, removed. She likes it that way, but the hero inexorably keeps showing her that in doing so, she’s not living. She has to go back to the beginning of that removal before she can go forward.

  8. “Don’t be afraid to hurt your characters. Even in real life pain spawns growth. It should be that way in your book.”

    Fabulous advice!

  9. Pain spawns growth?

    Good points, good post, Amie.
    Hmmm. I guess my hot-blooded hero from the frigid continent, and the frigid heroine from the tropical planet come to mind. She has to ‘serve’ him without emotional attachment, and his ego demands passion from her in a doomed relationship, since intermarriage is forbidden by threat of death…

  10. In the book I’m not thinking about because it’s down to one agent who just went past her 4-week exclusive period

    My fingers are still crossed for you. And I’m convinced we were separated at birth– or at least have the same father LOL

  11. Sasha and Emma–thanks!

    Raine….you know I lurve those characters and that story is a perfect example of what I’m talking about!

  12. Oh, crap, you’re only supposed to hurt your characters? Sometimes outright torture them until they’re twisted masses of raw emotion. Hey, it’s payback – they do the same to me! keeping me up at night, bothering me when I need to concentrate on other things – you know, simple stuff, like not running off the road when I’m driving. But do they care that I’m driving when they decide to hound me about writing their stories? No! i love writing. It’s the only time we can talk to the voices in our head and claim it’s related to our work!

    As you can tell from my little rant, my characters tend to be rather outspoken, demanding and headstrong. ah, the possibilities are endless…

  13. Margay “hurt” is open for interpretation!

    I have to tell you a funny story. My characters used to have a bad habit of talking while I drove–very distracting! As you know.

    Anyway I wrote this killer, torturous scene where my hero’s brother did all kinds of horrible stuff … and then had to stop (while cackling with glee and going OMG WTH!) and take my kid to basketball practice. On the way home an hour later, my hero’s brother makes a phone call–to the wife I didn’t know he had.

  14. Oh, now this was fascinating! 🙂

    I know that for me, the more tortured the characters are, the better their HEA usually ends up being. 😀

    In my wip (the one from hell…I’m sure you know what those are), my heroine is the daughter of the Alpha, but because of some freaky genetics (her mom is human) she didn’t inherit that particular gene. So, she’s got a huge chip on her shoulder because of that.

    The hero, on the other hand, is a shifter, but because of things in his past, he’s the cold, seems heartless kind of guy. Trying to figure out their quirks and yet making them human is so hard, but boy is it a blast! 🙂

    Thanks for a great entry. Makes me think. Much appreciated!

  15. Oh, Amie, that’s hysterical!!

    And, “Once I know my characters, I figure out what is the best thing that could happen to them and set them on that path. At the same time, I figure out what is the absolute worst thing that could happen to them . . . and I make it happen.”

    That makes perfect sense. It’s actually very compelling. *wanders off thinking*