Questions about writing: falling in love with your own characters

Here are a couple of final questions from my students in ITW’s Online Thriller School.

When creating a protagonist who features in a long running series, how do you keep the interest in the character alive in book after book? Would love to know how you have done this with Jo Beckett. Any tips or do’s and don’ts would be much appreciated.

TTLL_US_pbo create characters who stay interesting, think about their wants, needs, loves, drives, faults, strengths, and wounds. Give them interesting abilities. Give them limitations to work around. Let them have something valuable to say and do. Make sure they’re intelligent, observant, perhaps witty. And most important: Put them in interesting situations. Challenge them in novel ways. Show how they work a problem against difficult odds. That will help keep them interesting.

One of the books on my recommended reading list, Stein On Writing, discusses character in depth. Take a look at it.

And here’s what I didn’t get a chance to say in the Online Thriller School Q&A, about Jo Beckett.

Jo is an MD — a forensic psychiatrist. Her job itself is interesting, and the books explore how she tackles a variety of cases. She’s also a young widow. Over the course of the novels, she deals with the loss of her husband, and gradually emerges from her grief to fall in love with search and rescue expert Gabe Quintana. She develops a friendship with prickly SFPD lieutenant Amy Tang. She deals with her infatuated neighbor and with his evil monkey. She faces and tackles her personal phobias — of small spaces, and of flying. She examines her sister’s accusation (and Gabe’s fear) that she’s too much of an adrenaline junkie.

Jo learns, and grows, and does a whole lot of exciting stuff. I hope that keeps her interesting.

How do you get out of falling in love with a character and not wanting to see them get THAT hurt? Especially when you’re drawing on your own experiences. It feels like your punishing yourself.

This is an important question. The answer is that when you write fiction, at some point you have to step back from protecting your characters and let the chips fall where they may. You have to write the story honestly. You can either stop putting beloved characters in mortal danger, or you can show the consequences they suffer when they do get hurt.

This is one reason I urge writers not to stick too closely to their own experiences. If you’re writing fiction, you have to let go of the way “it really happened.” Instead, you have to take the story as far as it can go within the confines of the fictional world you’re creating. A character can have autobiographical characteristics, but you MUST separate yourself from your creations, or you’ll pull your punches.

I’ve been through this wringer with my own books. If you want to read about why I decided to stop protecting my characters, this blog post goes into it at greater length: Kill Your Darlings?

(If you’re interested in ITW or next year’s Online Thriller School, hit the link.)

2 responses to “Questions about writing: falling in love with your own characters

  1. I’ve read all your books and I have no aspiration to become a writer, but I love the way you talk about it. There is so much more to writing than I’ve ever realized and I’ve been an avid reader since I was eight. You have somehow demystified the whole writing experience while making it even more intriguing. I truly appreciate the work that writers do and how much blood, sweat and tears goes into each project. Thank you!

  2. I am completely delighted to hear this. Here on the blog I like to write about writing, just because I love it. Knowing that readers get something from my posts is wonderful. Thank you!

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