Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Core of Characters by Jennifer Slattery | Guest Post


Emilie here: This month the blog's focus is on characters in reading and writing. To kick us off we have the lovely Jennifer Slattery talking about the core of her character creation! I know you're going to enjoy this.

The Core of Characters

Some characters develop slowly. Maybe I’ll catch a glimpse of their career or whom they spend most of their time with. But other characters seem to unveil themselves rapidly in my brain. In my latest release, Bianca was very much the latter type.

That isn’t always the case, however, so when I begin to sketch out new characters, there are certain steps I normally take.

One might think I start with the easy stuff—hair color and style, eye color, and build. But I’ve found, I can’t determine those things until I know about my character’s core. The first and most important thing I need to know is, what do they want and why do they want that?

The why needs to be significant enough to pull my reader in and cause them to root for the character.

In order to answer this question, I need to know the character’s inner lie, because once I know this, I land on the why behind every action, reaction, dream, and fear.

For example, in Restoring Love, Angela believes she’s a failure. She’s made some incredibly big (and hurtful) mistakes that would have resulted in her being homeless—had her daughter not taken her in. But then she encounters Christ, begins to change, completes a college degree, and takes steps toward creating a new life.

Only problem—that nasty inner lie won’t leave her alone. It haunts her, increases her insecurities, and at times, causes her to perceive rejection when there isn’t any.

In an effort to throw off her lie, she determines to get a job as an educator. This is an admirable goal and one many share, but the goal alone wouldn’t be enough to keep women turning pages. Readers need to know why it’s so important that a character reach that goal. That, as I said, is where the inner lie comes in.

Once I know a character’s internal (to prove herself competent) and external (to gain a teaching position) goals, I need to figure out what keeps them from that. In Angela’s case, she has internal and external challenges. Internally, past failures make her reluctant to take healthy risks. When an opportunity arises, the moment she begins to step forward, her inner lie begins to rise up, whispering incessantly, “You can’t do that. They won’t hire you. You’re not good enough for that.”

But she also faces some hefty external challenges, the biggest of which is that she has zero teaching experience. This roadblock is compounded by the fact that she lives in a competitive job market where there are plenty of experienced teachers are seeking the same jobs that she is.

There are numerous other aspects to each character I come to discover, sometimes before I begin writing, other times as they face struggles or change. These include things like unique personality traits, quirks, fears, close relationships, and favorite ice cream. (All my characters must love ice cream if they ever want page time. It’s a rule.) And those things are important, but they’re secondary to the character’s inner lie, internal and external motivation, and internal and external obstacles.

How about you: Do you write? How do you develop your characters? Do you prefer to start surface level then go deeper, or do you go straight for the jugular as I do? Do you have any craft books on character development that you’d recommend? Share your thoughts, ideas, and suggestions in the comments below, because we can all learn from one another.
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Novelist and speaker Jennifer Slattery has a passion for helping women discover, embrace, and live out who they are in Christ. As the founder of Wholly Loved Ministries, (http://whollyloved.com) she and her team put on events at partnering churches designed to help women rest in their true worth and live with maximum impact. She writes devotions for Internet Café Devotions, Christian living articles for Crosswalk.com, and edits for Firefy, a Southern fiction imprint with Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. When not writing, reading, or editing, Jennifer loves going on mall dates with her adult daughter and coffee dates with her hilariously fun husband.

Visit with Jennifer online at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.com and connect with her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/JenSlatte

Book Description for Restoring Love
Mitch, a contractor and house-flipper, is restoring a beautiful old house in an idyllic Midwestern neighborhood. Angela, a woman filled with regrets and recently transplanted to his area, is anything but idyllic. She's almost his worst nightmare, and she s also working on restoring something herself. As he struggles to keep his business afloat and she works to overcome mistakes of her past, these two unlikely friends soon discover they have something unexpected in common, a young mom who is fighting to give her children a better life after her husband's incarceration. While both Mitch and Angela are drawn to help this young mother survive, they also find themselves drawn to each other. Will a lifetime of regrets hold them back or unite them and bring redemption along with true love?
Purchase: Restoring Love