Character Building Part 3-Karen Hoover and Character Bibles

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Hello dear readers,

I’d like to introduce you to my friend Karen Hoover who has published both traditionally and independently. I first read her book The Sapphire Flute a year or so ago (or maybe it’s been two-time seems to fly). I enjoyed how well written her characters are. Then I met Karen through a mutual friend. Karen showed me her Character Bibles and wow, I was fascinated by this. So I thought I’d share her with you. I hope you adore her as much as I do!

Me: How do you come up with your character concepts? Sometimes it’s like which came first the chicken or the egg. In this case the plot or character?

Karen: It’s usually the character, but frequently  the character is placed within a certain plot idea that needs some serious fleshing out.

Me: I know for me sometimes I’ll come up with a plot line and wonder what kind of a characters will work best. I had a flash of inspiration not too long ago and I didn’t immediately know who would play which parts. That’s when my research began.

Karen: It’s fascinating to see how other authors work. It is usually the opposite for me, or they come concurrently. I love it!

Me: So Once you’ve decided on your “shell” character, how do you flesh him/her out?

Karen: Well, one of the first things I do is look at pictures.

Me: I do that too. I like to hang pictures up for me to look at as I write.

Karen: I usually have a vague idea of what the character looks like, so I’ll do a search for, say, oriental teenage girls, but I always make sure to search in safe places. You never know what will turn up in a vague google search!

Me: What sites do you use?

Karen: I usually go to stock photography sites, places where talent post head-shots for agents to see, modeling sites, or occasionally use a family member or friend, or if I see someone interesting I’ll ask to take their picture.

A picture will tell you a heck of a lot about a person. I mean, how often do we look into someone’s eyes and feel like we know them? I do it all the time. Also, their posture, the tip of their chin, the way they walk or hold themselves. All of those things tell you about a person, so I take the picture that resonates the most with me and fill out a character sheet based on what I see.
Me: Can you give us a link to your favorite people watching site?

Karen: Sure. Generally I’ll start with a general google search of something specific like “headshot pictures” and follow the links. If that doesn’t turn up anything I’ll go someplace like istockphoto.com and see if anything better turns up. There are a million places to look!

Me:  I’ve seen your “Character Bibles” and they are phenomenal! For our readers, describe them for us.

Karen: Thanks! I love my character bibles. I actually have two for every book. One contains a character information sheet, the character’s picture, their history page, and a page of external goal, motivation, and conflict, as well as an internal goal, motivation, and conflict page. I do those four worksheets and add a picture for each character.

Me: Can you give us a sample of what might go in your worksheets?

Karen: The Character info worksheet has all the basic information: height, race, age, eye color, hair color, and then I’ve added in things like what clothing style they choose. Whether they have any tattoos or piercings or color their hair. Quirks, like biting their nails or constantly pulling at their hair. Personality. Things like that. Just a glimpse into their inner workings.

Me: Awesome, thanks! Tell us about your other book.

Karen: The other book is the plot book. I have a sticker for each character and every character within a scene is placed on the scene page so I know what everyone is doing. I even include the characters not in the scene so that I know what they’ve been doing since last we saw them.

Me:  How did you first learn about the idea of “Character Bibles?”

Karen: I learned of them from two sources. First, Jeff Savage, or J. Scott Savage, depending on which style of book you read from him. :)

Me: Funny you should mention him, I’m in the middle of his first book of the Farworld series.

Karen: Jeff is awesome. :)   He was where I first heard the term, but it wasn’t until I took a class from Tracy and Laura Hickman that I learned what it was really all about. I just do my character bibles differently than they do. It’s a matter of learning what works for you and doing it.
Me: So as you’re writing, do your characters change, or do you pretty well have them “written in stone,” so to speak.

Karen: For the most part, my characters stay as I imagine them. They may do different things, and a few small things may change as the story goes, but since I write series, primarily, that’s not a bad thing. Change is a part of life, and since I consider myself a character writer, it would make sense that they would change. They’re people. They may not have bodies, but that doesn’t make them any less real.

Me: No bodies (gasps). I thought they WERE real. (winks). Tell me, who is your favorite character? What is she/he like? How has your “Character Bible” helped to define this character?

Karen: Wow, that’s like asking which kid is your favorite!

Me: I did throw a lot at you, didn’t I?

Karen: My very favorite character is in an unpublished story. She is half Japanese/half Irish and has blue hair.

Me: Wow, Japanese with blue hair! Intriguing. Tell us more.

Karen: She is seriously messed up because of her parents choices and doesn’t trust anyone. I love seeing her peek out of her shell and begin to trust. I also like how tough she is.

Me: She looks intriguing!

Karen: If you want me to choose my favorite published character, wow, that’s even MORE tough! I love them all, even C’Tan. I love Ember because she is willing to fight for what she wants. I love Kayla because of her passion for music and stubborness. I love C’Tan because she wants something more and has to make bad choices to avoid even worse consequences. I love JJ because he’s just so dang funny. And he lives in my favorite place in the world–Oklahoma!

Me: We do fall in love with our characters, don’t we, even the bad guys.

Karen: Oh, yeah!
Me: What kinds of questions do you ask of your characters as you’re creating them? By this I mean, do you interview them? Do you start with character sheets?

Karen: I have a character sheet and a history sheet, as well as the internal and external goals, motivations, and conflicts sheets. Those are primarily the questions that I ask. I’ll send a few along to share. :)

Me: That would be awesome!

Karen: Happy to oblige. :D
Me: Finally, is there any advice you might give to our readers in creating their own characters?

Karen: Yes. Treat them as if they are real people.

Me: (gasps again). You mean, they’re not?

Karen: Well, they are to me! But if I tell most people that, they think I’m crazy! Seriously, get to know your characters. You can speak to them in your own way. Do so through their pictures. Examine them. See who they are, then ask them questions through interviews or worksheets so that they become even more real. I have found that the better I know a character, the easier the story comes. They write it for me. There will be natural conflicts between certain characters. Natural problems that arise because of their history. All you have to do then is work it into your plot idea and it fleshes things out in ways that are amazing! Best of luck to everyone!

Me: Karen, thanks so much for joining me! I’ve learned so much along the way in writing believable characters, and it’s thanks to seasoned writers like yourself who keep teaching beginning writers. If you’d like to learn more about Karen, visit her at http://karen-hoover.blogspot.com/

 So here’s my writing question of the week--How do you discover and write about your characters?

 

Building Characters Part 2

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When I’m trying to flesh out a character, one of the things I love to do is to sit down and have a chat with him or her.
Several years ago I had an idea for a story and I kept picturing the main character as a Jewish man. His story simply would not come together. He resisted me at every turn. (If you think this sounds strange then perhaps you are not a writer). Every time I sat down to write Beloved, I could not get the words out .At this point all I knew was that David was converted to God. Finally, I pulled up a blank document and began this interview.

Me: David, I’m having a really hard time figuring you out. I keep picturing you with blue eyes and blond hair. How can that be if you’re Jewish?
David: I am not Jewish, like you first thought.
Me: Really? That surprises me. Who are you then?
David: I met a Jewish family who was running for their lives. They ended up migrating north, where my people live. I’m Scandinavian.
Me: Scandinavia? Really?
David: You see, my family and I are sheep herders. I was nearly ten. My father sent me to tend the sheep, when all of a sudden this group of creatures came upon me. Their skin and hair were dark and they had hair upon their faces. I’d never seen anything so strange. And their speech was garbled. I couldn’t understand them at all.

Needless to say, I was surprised! That definitely explained the blond hair and blue eyes. This is a great way to tap your subconscious. By the way, this interview went on for 20 pages as he told me about his back-story, his involvement with the Jews and how he met his wife. From page 11 it became a scene and then the scene eventually became a later chapter in my book.

Once you’ve learned some things about your character you need to keep fleshing them out. One of the problems I had with David is that he was too perfect. I had to give him a flaw. Then I realized his “perfection” was his flaw. In trying to be perfect, he became a little bit self-righteous and really bugged the people around him.

Another interview I had was with Jake from The Penny Project. Now, I already knew this kid was flawed, but I was stuck at a point in the beginning of the book where I had to let that flaw show without getting him suspended from school. So I sat down and had this little interview with him:

Me: What’s your plan, Jake? You’ve uttered these words, and I have no idea where you’re going with it.
Jake: Me either. I just blurted them out.
Me: So you’re got to come up with something that will keep our readers reading and you keep from being a jerk.
Jake: Hey, I’m not a jerk.
Me: Yeah, well, you’re kind of acting like one.
Jake: I just want to keep being popular. And if I hang out with that ugly chic, then yeah, down go my ratings. I mean, you were in high school once, weren’t you popular?
Me: No, Jake, I wasn’t. I was plain. My hair was dishwater, I wore ugly glasses. I was Penelope. Well, not as bad. I had a few boyfriends, but nothing steady for very long.
Jake: Okay, so what? You still had friends, right.
Me: Yes, I did. There was a group uf us that always hung out together. So, yeah, I had a few friends. But you’re sidetracking me. I do not want to talk about my high school experience. Those are over, and I’m glad.
Jake: So what do you to know about mine?
Me: I want to know why you’re being such a jerk to Penelope. You know she can’t help it, right?
Jake: Yeah, but why me? I mean there are lots of people at the school that could be friends with her.
Me: Would they? Really?
Jake: Sure, I mean–
Me: If you’re talking about Amber, would she really be that nice?
Jake: She’s a straight A student, she’s always nice to everyone.
Me: Did you see they way she slumped down in her seat? She was relieved the teacher didn’t put Penelope behind her. She doesn’t want to be Penelope’s friend any more than you do.
Jake: Yeah, so. I don’t want anything to do with Penelope. She’s a real dog.
Me: Why? Would it hurt you?
Jake: Heck yeah! Pierce is my best friend. He only goes for the cute chicks and…

As you can see I’m getting to really know the characters. The voice between David and Jake are completely different and they both gave me key pieces of information that helped me to write their stories.

If you’ll ask your character questions, they will tell you. Sometimes what happens is surprising! And isn’t that the joy of writing anyway?

Another one of my characters is Loretta from my book Mystic’s Tale. For months I had her standing at the edge of a deep ravine with a skinny bridge she had to cross in order to save someone she loves. I just couldn’t seem to figure out how to get her over the bridge. Because this is fantasy, she couldn’t simply walk across it, that would be too easy. I needed something to hold her back, something magical. But what was it? I’d interviewed her, written the scene several different ways, and I’m still not happy with it. One night as I lay in bed thinking about her dilemma, I pictured her standing patiently, arms cross, one foot crossed over the other leaning against the bridge post.

Me: What are we going to do?
Loretta: I don’t know? You figure it out. You’re the writer.

Wow! Talk about attitude. I thought I knew this character. One of the things I discovered as I tried to flesh out Loretta is that she is patient. She will wait…unless she learned that the person on the other side of the bridge was in grave danger. That got her moving. I’m happy to say she went across the bridge.

What do you do to flesh out your characters?