Early on in my current Work In Progress, I had a feeling I would have a problem with my main male character. He had been a secondary character in a previous book and I thought he would be fun to get to know. Almost from the beginning, I noticed that we weren’t connecting. He seemed uninterested in revealing himself to me. I tried to charm him with pieces of the story and the really sweet woman I had for him. I wrote a scene he seemed to like, that was completely out of order in the timeline of the story (which I don’t do often) and I felt a little more comfortable with him.
I moved on with the other characters. Some characters made reappearances, so we were already acquainted and used to one another. There were some new characters, but they too were easy to get along with. I described how I saw them and they were mostly honored or flattered. Sure there were tweaks and moments where they revealed something surprising about them and I would clap in delight and quickly write it down.
When I got back to my male protagonist he had shut himself off once again and I was flummoxed. It wasn’t that he didn’t have anything to say. He spoke to me, but it was all surface stuff. I didn’t care about his favorite color or that he could eat anything and not gain a pound. I wanted to know why he kept the secrets he did. I wanted to know why he seemed to be stuck in an emotional limbo. I wanted to know why if he had a relationship with God, he asked for help for others but not himself. You know, deep stuff. Do you know what he said to me?
“I feel like you’re just using me for a story. I don’t feel like you really want to get to know me.” I didn’t know what to say. He was right, but most of my characters were very amiable and lent me their experiences, philosophical reveries, and life-altering revelation.
Obviously, I was going to have to work harder to charm this character. I was running out of time, as I had procrastinated in starting the book and delving into it in earnest. Not his problem, of course, but frustration is not an emotion that aids in my writing and I was on my way there.
So I decided to enter his world. I researched his heritage and culture and grew even more intrigued by his family’s traditions and teachings. I started asking him questions about his family and what they thought about his aspiration to prove a concept that his ancestors considered impossible then ‘Poof’ it was like a light went on in his eyes and I was in.
As I said, I don’t normally have trouble communicating with or getting to know my characters, but I have to connect with them otherwise I can’t expect my readers to. Andrew taught me a valuable lesson though. Even though my characters may start out in my mind, they should not be taken for granted.
In the future, I will be more attentive to my characters. I will ask them about their childhoods, no matter what their age is in the timeline of my story. I will inquire about their favorite moments in life and ask if I can shadow them for a day before I start writing. Even if I’ve heard them inquiring about their turn while I’m finishing up another book, when I am done and can give them my undivided attention, I will approach them as if we had been recently introduced.
One more thing. I’ve decided to start dating my main male characters. Well to be more specific, I will pretend to go on one date with them and see if my main female characters will like them instantly or if the two will need a little coaxing. Being a romantic myself, I usually like to see an instant attraction, but I have had some of my characters eye each other warily upon their introductions and grow to love each other deeply. I’m good either way.
If you find any of my practices for getting to know my characters useful, you are welcome to use them, I just ask that you don’t judge me too harshly for my social foibles with my characters. I was, after all, being transparent.
I do also hope that at some later point in time, this article won’t be used to disprove my sanity and if it is then I hope my readers will come to my rescue since quite a few of them have expressed a desire to befriend a couple of my characters.
Remember, characters have feelings too.
My Beauty For Your Ashes is the first book in Traci Wooden-Carlisle’s Promise to Zion series. It follows the life, loves and heartache of a young woman who has embraced her relationship with God wholeheartedly and strives to love herself no matter how much of her past threatens her newfound peace.
When Traci isn’t writing she is creating and designing jewelry and author swag for her Etsy shop Tracesofdesign.
Listen to Traci Wooden-Carlisle's podcast episode here.