If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.

Check out our February author interviews: 2/7-debut author Keenan Powell (Alaskan lawyer), 2/14-Leslie Wheeler (Rattlesnake Hill), 2/21-bestselling author Krista Davis, who unveils a new series, 2/28-Diane Vallere answers my questions about Pajama Frame. Please join us in welcoming these authors to WWK.

Our February Saturday Guest Blogger Schedule: 2/3-Saralyn Richard, 2/10-Kathryn Lane. WWK's Margaret H. Hamilton will blog on 2/17, and Kait Carson on 2/24.

Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published. Her short story "Goldie" will be published in the Busted anthology, which will be released by Level Best Books on April 25th.

In addition, our prolific KM has had the following shorts published as well: "Making Tracks" in Passport to Murder, Bouchercon anthology, October 2017 and "Turkey Underfoot," appears in the anthology The Killer Wore Cranberry: a Fifth Course of Chaos.


Friday, September 3, 2010

Random Acts of Character

by Ramona DeFelice Long

A while ago, I caved into social pressure, professional admonishments and nagging from my sister, and joined Facebook. My reason for being late to that particular party is the same reason I’m late to most techy things: fear that I will mess up and, somehow, blow up my house.

Joining FB was not difficult. The hardest part was the time suck. When I complained about this, a friend grumbled, “Yeah, well, be glad you weren’t around when the 25 Random Things went viral.”

For the uninformed, in early 2009 a fad called “25 Random Things About Me” swept over Facebook. It was a very simple fad: people listed 25 things about themselves and sent it to all of their Facebook Friends.

I was not on Facebook at the time, but I heard about it. My thought was, “What’s the big hoop-de-do? I’ve done that a dozen times.”

I didn’t mean about myself, of course. I meant about my characters.

Like a lot of writers, the characters I create in fiction are as real to me as the people who live on my street. I know everything about them—their childhood traumas, their hobbies, their temperaments, the first love, their first kiss, their first time. It’s important that writers give characters a full history and a well rounded life, so that those characters can appear on the pages as well rounded people with hopes, dreams and baggage.

The trick to making characters real on the page is to use the random, and not so random, things about them in the story.

How do you do this?

Example: At my last critique group meeting, I noted that Character X acted completely out of character when she secretly paid for a soldier’s meal at a diner. In the previous 100 pages, X had never been generous or kind; she’d never said a word about supporting the military. This random act of kindness came out of the blue, and so didn’t fit in the story.

X’s creator explained: “Oh, you see, her brother fought in Desert Storm and she used to do this kind of stuff before {insert tragic event here} but X has been so embittered by {tragic event}, the kind-hearted part of her has been drowned by her bitterness. I know all of this from her deep background.”

This made sense, except for a couple of important points:
1. Nowhere previously in the story had we seen or heard of X’s brother, or knew he was a veteran.
2. We met X after the {tragic event}. There were no scenes with her before it. We’d only seen her as nasty and bitter, so we assumed this had always been her personality.
3. The only way a reader will understand deep background is if it is introduced, explained and woven into the action in the story.

Character misses are not an uncommon problem. When a character seems to be acting out of character, it may be that he or she has not been deeply enough drawn for the confusing action to make sense.

Take X. It’s believable that she underwent a personality shift after {tragic event}. Trauma changes people. Vestiges of who she was and what she was like before may show up in the story, but it only works if groundwork is laid for it.

How can you you accomplish this?

In dialogue: “X, you used to be such a happy-go-lucky person before {tragic event}. Now you are always angry and bitter. It makes me sad.”

In description: X’s office walls display letters of thanks from places where she volunteered—but now the thank you letters are plastered over with news articles about her relentless search for her daughter’s murderer.

In action: X runs into a homeless person who calls her by name, but X ignores him, leaving the homeless person shocked by her rudeness.

Deep background is essential to creating good characters, but how much of it appears in the story depends on what the writer needs and wants to show. When the authorial decision is made to show something from the past, or have the character act seemingly out of character, the author may use deep background to help the reader understand and believe it.

The random thing, in other words, can’t really be random. The only way to make the character’s random act seem real is to remove the random part of it.

How well do you know your characters? Do they surprise you or act out of character?

You don't have to belong to Facebook to play the 25 Random Things game. Try it--with a character--and use it as deep background for a story. Is it fun? Does it help?


Polly said...

I always know my characters, and though they rarely act out of character, they continually surprise me.

Pauline Alldred said...

I plan to do 25 random things with the characters for the novel I've just started. I have them clear in my mind but I want to make sure the reader is not left questioning authenticity.

Ramona said...

Polly, I hope the day never comes when characters stop surprising us. What fun would we have then?

Ramona said...

Pauline, I did the 25 things today for a minor character, just as an exercise. Now I want him more in the story. What an interesting guy he turned out to be.