Construction Zone: Character Personalities

I was thinking about character personalities this weekend as Monica, the heroine in The Biker’s Wench, started really coming to life. More specifically, I was thinking about how I really don’t “know” my characters until I start writing, and they start reacting to the stuff I toss at them. I normally have a general idea of who they are, and what’s going on in their lives at that moment, but back story and the core personality comes out slowly as I’m writing. Even when I do my scene outlines,the outline consists of what problems I’m going to throw at which character. Especially with the first few chapters, I find out how the characters will react as I’m writing – and their personalities evolve from that.

Monica is the sassiest heroine I’ve ever written. Imagine my surprise when she started telling people to go to hell – something I’d never do, and most of my heroines are either too polite or too scared to do. It’s a little shocking when your character starts using language and speech patterns you’re not entirely comfortable with…but at the same time, it’s exciting too.I like strong, self-reliant heroines, so mine always tend to be that way, but they’re normally more the quiet, thoughtful type. Monica is not quiet. She’s impulsive. She tries to be practical, but at the end of the day, she follows her heart, even when it gets her into trouble. I didn’t see that coming, but I’m really intrigued to see where it will lead.

My heroes surprise me too – but not as much. I like guys (even just as “guys”), and I’ve had a lot of male friends over the years, so I’m not often surprised by how my heroes turn out. In my experience, some of the toughest guys are the most loyal and loving – and that plays out pretty easily on the page for me. I often have to ask myself what my heroine would do in a situation – but I rarely have to ask what the hero would do. And I’m okay with that. I want readers to fall in love with my heroes,and so far, that seems to happen more often than not.

When/how do you get to know your characters? Who’s the last character that surprised you? Do you have a favorite “core” personality to start with, or are your characters always different from each other?

6 comments on “Construction Zone: Character Personalities

  1. Samantha Hunter

    Hey Jamie. 🙂

    I also get to really know them in the writing, the deep stuff, and I enjoy when I feel like I can really “hear” them, and then how they react to things isn’t so much a surprise, because I know how they think.

    But I usually start knowing at least their general backstory, their work, their general personality, and the main dynamic between them — I need to know this to get the first page down. But I love discovering all of the layers along the way after that.

    My heroines may be more varied personality types than my heroes. I like nice guys, protectors, alphas in beta clothing (or what some people call gammas). They all have their own stories, quirks, voices (at least I hope so), but my heroes are probably more steady types than my heroines, who can range.

    I do shift back and forth in who has what to learn — in some books, they are both traveling an arc, but in others, one char might be pretty okay, more or less set in terms of their growth, while the other has a lot to learn, and it can be the hero or the heroine, depending on the book. I think this is something I need to know, at least in a general sense, before I start — who will be the one with the most to learn.

    Sam

  2. SidniM

    I’ve tried to do character building as part of my pre-writing process but the result always seems contrived. I enjoy finding out about my characters as I write. Though I will admit that doing so oftentimes means that I write scenes that get cut later–scenes that tell me a lot about a character but don’t move the story forward. I LOVE writing characters that are opposite of my own personality. I think it scratches the same itch that theater does for actors–the chance to “be” someone else for a while.

  3. Jamie D.

    Hey Sam.

    I think this is something I really need to work on – getting to know the characters before I start writing. I have a hard time doing that though, because in my mind, they just aren’t really “real” until I see them in actual situation. I do normally know occupation and general personality before I start, but that’s about it.

    You would have to bring up character arcs. LOL I never, ever consider that before I start writing…and of course I should. It just seems like such an ethereal thing…I mean, I know they’ll get together in the end, but if I know a whole lot more than that about the end before I start, I lose interest in writing the story. I need some mystery to stay motivated.

  4. Jamie D.

    Ooo…I wonder if maybe you could write those scenes before you start, you know, just stick the characters into some sort of scene together and get to know them outside the story first? And now that your comment inspired that idea, I may just do that myself, and see how that works to “meet” my characters before I start writing. Thanks for that idea! LOL

    And yeah, Monica scares me a little, because she’s borderline out of control (and I’m a control freak), but it’s exciting too, because I while I sort of know how she’ll react to things, for the most part it will be an organic discovery process. I can “feel” what she would do, but not until she’s right at that choice she has to make, if that makes any sense.

    Interesting stuff, eh?

  5. Samantha Hunter

    I think I meant character arcs more in terms of what they need to learn — who will be the most “damaged” LOL — and what those problems will be. But there is a lot of working around that and how it’s going to progress within the book — but I do kind of need to know at the start, for instance, that in Hard to Resist, my heroine had suffered abuse from her previous boyfriend, or in Pick Me Up, that the heroine was breaking out of a sheltered life and the hero was hurt by a friend’s betrayal, etc because these are so important to the first pages of the book.

    I find no matter how much I think I know at the start, even with a synopsis, the actual book always changes… never any worries about surprises, LOL.

    Sam

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