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.
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?