Posts Tagged ‘creating characters’

Tell Again Tuesday

A blog series where we shamelessly share posts from others that we have enjoyed.



Selected Insights from Julia Quinn

By Pamela Gibson

I write historical romance and Regencies have long been one of my favorite genres. Over the years, I’ve sat through several presentations at in-person conventions, learning different perspectives from some of my favorite authors. Here are a few I recently came across from Julia Quinn, the author of the Bridgerton series. She made them during a panel discussion in 2016.

Plot or characters, which comes first? . . .

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SMP Authors’ blog

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  1. Give them a quirk. This doesn’t have to be something big, just consistent and something that will set them apart from the other characters.
  2. Give them a flaw. No one is perfect. I know I’m not. It’s the flaws, big and little, that make us human.
  3. Give them a secret. As an actor, my drama coach always said to create a secret for our character to give them depth. No one needed to know what the secret was, but it would show in our performance.
  4. Give them a phobia. Everyone has fears. The most memorable characters will show those fears at some point, yet be able to conquer them.
  5. Make them true to themselves. Readers will be jarred out of the story if your character does something that’s out of character, without good reason. It’s the equivalent of a perfect child suddenly doing drugs.
  6. Give them something to care about. No one likes people who don’t care. If your characters, even the villains, are totally heartless they become stereotypical. Even bad guys care about something or love someone.
  7. Give them appropriate tags to show, not tell, the reader about them. I can’t say enough about show don’t tell. Appropriate tags that let the reader see the character rather than telling the reader what you want them to know makes characters, and stories, sparkle.
  8. Make them reveal emotions. Your characters emotions are the readers’ window to the heroes’, heroines’, and villains’ souls. Let the readers see, and figure out for themselves, what the characters are all about.
  9. Give them something they must do or achieve to gain happiness. This speaks to goal, motivation and conflict. If a character doesn’t have to stretch and grow, then you don’t have a full
  10. Provide only enough background to make you reader believe in him. Burying the reader under mounds of background that doesn’t matter to your story is like putting honey on top of jelly. It’s superfluous and unnecessary. Less is more. Just be sure you include the important stuff that speaks to the character’s motivation. Leave the rest on your character sheets where it belongs.

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image from Microsoft Clip Art

We have a confession to make—we’re hopeless romantics, and we watch the Bachelor and Bachelorette.  Hey, what else would you expect from high school sweethearts who’ve lasted as long as we have? Wanting others to have this great thing called lasting love is one of the reasons we’re hooked on love, and the show. This season we’re rooting for bachelorette Emily Maynard.  She thought she found love last year on the Bachelor, but the romance ended before the season even aired.

Sure, we know the show is set up to create drama, drama and more drama. That’s evident from the commercial clips. When we saw Emily smash Shelly, an ostrich egg one of the men carried around as a gimmick to be memorable, we were expecting spectacular fireworks around the act. Instead, the bachelor decided it was just time to get rid of Shelly so Emily could concentrate on him. It worked. She gave him a rose that night.

We also suspect the bachelors and bachelorettes are urged to keep one of the more controversial characters. We can’t verify that, but find it hard to believe that some of the skankier ones actually fly under the radar. Let’s face it, when there’s a lot of drama in the house and the other cast members are telling the bachelor or bachelorette that so and so isn’t really here for you, a smart person would take that under serious consideration. Wouldn’t you? But they never do.

We also know very few bachelors and bachelorettes ever end up married, but we’re convinced that’s because they don’t choose the ones we select for them. If they could only see what we see—those candid clips where the chosen few confess their real feelings to the camera—they’d make the right choices. They’d choose the girl or guy who’s looking for real love, a lasting relationship. But, then again, maybe not.

Love on The Bachelorette is not like the real thing. Donald and I never had a date where we bungy jumped off a cliff. In fact, had he suggested it, the relationship would have been over before it started.  I don’t like heights! On the other hand, had he called for me in a private jet or yacht—which he did not; he drove the family car or his Chevy convertible—I would have latched onto him much quicker. We never went to exotic locales for our dates, unless you count the annual Harvest Home Fair as exotic—it did feature an assortment of farm animals. Real life dating, and usually love, tends to be more sedate, and with one person at a time, not twenty-five. Reality, it is not.

Love in your book isn’t like real life either. It’s bigger than life. The only reason Emily is dating twenty-five guys is because there’s a reality show about it. That makes it bigger than real life, and, in today’s world of reality show crazes, it’s plausible. Your readers are looking for romance outside the norm of their lives. They want bigger than life, they like locations they’ve never visited, but they also want enough reality that they could see themselves finding love too. Whatever situation you use for your hero’s and heroine’s first meeting, and subsequent conflicts, make it believable in the world you have created.

Your characters should experience a range of emotions and problems. Whenever Emily makes a bad choice, in our opinion, we groan. We want her to find love. When she cries because one of the men has broken her heart, we break out the tissues. When she keeps the ones we like, we celebrate. Because we know how important true love is, we empathize with her. When your readers come alongside your characters to experience love, they need to feel these things too.

Conflict is paramount in the relationship of your hero and heroine. The eternal struggle between man and woman needs to be a part of your story. If your characters get together too easily, get along so well they just know they’re meant for one another, or the relationship feels as comfortable as a pair of old shoes, then you are missing the mark. It’s rare that a bachelor or bachelorette keeps someone with whom they just feel comfortable. Even though they say they want someone who can be a friend first and lover second—which is what we feel relationships should be built on—they appear to yearn for the bad boys or bad girls, even when they’ve been warned. Your characters need to want to be together as much as they know they should be apart.

Last, but not least, your heroine and hero should make lifetime commitments, or the book should end with the promise of that happening. If they aren’t, then you’re not writing classic romance. Your ending needs to be stronger than most of the After the Rose Ceremony shows we’ve seen.  The engagement ring needs to be front and center. The couple needs to be smiling and happy. The date needs to be set and the producers need to promise to foot the wedding bill and invite all the viewers.

Happily Ever After is what we promise in our books and it’s what we hope Emily will finally find at the end of this season’s The Bachelorette. Because, as we said before, we are hopeless romantics … and we know the Happily Ever After ending is possible.

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