The Process of Creating Memorable
Many aspects of a romance novel help to make it memorable, including witty dialogue, lush description, and a page-turning plot. But I think that one of the most important qualities a book must have to be considered a keeper is a cast of well-drawn characters. Characters that leap from the page, right into readers' hearts. However, creating realistic, vivid characters is a task that is easier said than done. So, how does one go about fashioning memorable characters?
I tend to begin my new book ideas by coming up with a character first - a person that pops into my head, even if he or she initially seems little more than the shadow of an idea. In the case of my current work in progress the heroine came to me first. I let my ideas for her ruminate a while, turning her this way and that, examining her personality by thinking about the possible experiences of her life - all of the difficult or joyful moments that had made her who she was at the point where my story for her would begin. After a few weeks (often this process begins when I'm three quarters of the way through the writing of another manuscript) the character is mostly fleshed out. I sit down at the computer to begin work on my new idea and, lo and behold, I have the heroine's entire back-story worked out in my mind. Granted, much of this information will never see print on a page, but all of my heroine's quirks and foibles, her likes and dislikes, are essential for me to know, so that I can paint her more accurately within the flow of the story.
All right, now that I have the heroine almost fully developed, I need to consider my hero. Thoughts of him have been nipping at my psyche as I worked on the heroine, and so now I go through the same mulling process with him - then I do the same thing again with the villain or villains of the piece as I conceive them (unless, of course, the villain is an internal one, stemming from the characters themselves!J) About this time I start to write out a character background for the hero and heroine, each coming in at usually around 4-5 typed double-spaced pages.
It is at this point that it is wise, I think, to compare your two main characters, to see if you can "tweak" them in any way to make them more fitting foils to one and other.For example, in SECRET VOWS, my debut novel, Gray and Catherine are in some ways polar opposites and in others quite parallel; both have had many disturbing experiences in their lives, both have secrets to hide and both believe strongly in justice. However, Gray is a man who feels guilt-ridden and tortured by the events of his youth - a perfect foil for Catherine, who, though she too has suffered trauma in her life, still maintains an aura of innocence and purity. This contrast provides fertile ground for emotional conflict: as Gray begins to fall in love with Catherine, he will at the same time feel the need to pull away, thinking himself unworthy of a woman like her. Of course once her secrets are revealed, the tables will turn and the stretching conflict can pull the characters in the opposite direction.
One last bit of advice about characters: try to riddle them with the same kinds of imperfections that hamper us mortals. Granted, as readers, we like our heroes and heroines to rise above these imperfections by the end of our story, to grow and change in ways that are laudable and inspiring - but in the meantime, it never hurts to make them flawed creatures like ourselves. Burden your hero with a shadow of self-doubt or a tendency to make rash decisions. Create your heroine with scars - physical, emotional, or both - and then make sure that those scars are brought to the fore in the course of your story. Don't be afraid to hold the figurative mirror to your characters' faces, and make them cringe at the imperfections they see. This is one of the best and most believable ways to create the kind of motivation for change and growth so necessary to good character development.
Do these things, and I believe that you will be well on the road to creating your own memorable characters!
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