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Heather McCollum | Giving Birth to Characters

June 28, 2014

Heather McCollumCRIMSON HEARTI’m thrilled to be here today on Fresh Fiction in honor of my newly released historical, paranormal romance, CRIMSON HEARTCRIMSON HEART is my ninth completed full-length novel and the third in the Highland Hearts series (which also contains two novellas). The circle of family and friends in the magical world of the Macbains and Munros continues to grow. Every time I turn around a hero and heroine from an earlier book have created another baby (those virile Highland warriors tend to do that) and wa la – I have new characters to raise.

It’s extremely important that all of these characters (both people and animals) are fully colored in with untold (or eventually told) past baggage, oddities, and personal preferences. Otherwise they fall flat as cardboard cut-outs or stereotypes (yawn – close book). So just as our infinitely diverse gene pool stirs up new human beings, we writers must shape our unique characters. Where do all these little persona details come from? My characters are mosaics, built from personality shards of every creature I have encountered mixed with a generous portion of my own vivid imagination and past experiences.

Characters are everywhere. I used to have weekly coffee with a group of ladies. One of them told us that she irons every single piece of daily clothing her family of four wears each morning. I imagine them lining up in their underwear waiting for their crisp, still-warm pants and shirts. Maybe one girl purposely walks through a sprinkler on the way to the bus, wrinkling up her clothes to quietly rebel against her mother’s need for control. What a fabulous detail!

Potential characters stand in bank lines, gossip next to me at the hair dressers, and order the Taj Mahal of vanilla lattes at the coffee house. People are fascinating! Airports, PTA meetings, grocery store deli counters, my characters are everywhere just waiting to be found.

There are specific places where memorable characters leap from every corner. I attend Renaissance fairs and tour museums. I journeyed through England and Scotland last summer to find historical and whimsical details for the Highland Hearts series. Every brogue I deciphered on our trip in the Highlands helped me visualize my Scottish warriors. I even attended an authentic Highland games in the Highlands where large, bearded men hefted tree-trunk poles in their kilts. Tattoos swirled around one competitor’s arms, complementing his biceps as he hoisted the heavy weight. Even though his gut was much bigger than my hero’s middle, those biceps are definitely featured in my books.

But I don’t have to go all the way to Britain to find colorful details. One fun game to play when stuck in traffic anywhere is to look at the people in the cars and trucks around you. A small group of romance writers and I did this on our way to a conference. We were next to a man and woman who were discussing something fairly intense in their BMW. We brainstormed about the issue, where they were headed and if one of them would end up dead within the week. We devised the best romantic suspense story just from sitting in traffic. Plus we laughed our butts off.

So where did Searc and Elena (my hero and heroine in CRIMSON HEART) come from? Searc is a serious version of my own Highland husband, with a dark past that makes him close himself off from his clan. Like my husband, he will never abandon anyone, including an animal. Elena is an amalgamation of ladies from the Tudor period, but she has definite rebel tendencies (much like my teen daughter).

If I get stuck somewhere in the writing process, it is almost always because I haven’t fleshed out my characters enough. Then I take a day and brainstorm with pictures, music and family trees to color them in completely. I feel like a therapist with my characters lying on my couch, but suddenly quirks, stern silences, and rash actions make sense. Motivations become apparent and the characters balloon from two-dimensional depictions to three-dimensional real people, people we can root for, cry with, cheer with and love.

Thank you again for having me on Fresh Fiction to celebrate the release of CRIMSON HEART! For more information on me and my books, please stop by my website. I can also be found on Twitter , Facebook, and Pinterest.

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