(Or do they create thinly-veiled versions of their friends and family, and torture them vicariously on the page?)
The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Every writer has a different method for creating characters, but mine is fairly straightforward:
I create characters the same way you meet new people. First, you see what they look like, then you hear how they talk, and you learn a little bit about them.
And, of course, the more time you spend around them, the weirder they get.
One of my favorite characters in The Spider Thief series is Cleo, the stylish but no-nonsense girl next door — who packs two guns, a forensics kit, and an ironclad agenda. On her own, she can seem a little obsessed with her job. That’s why it’s fun to pair her up with a completely opposite guy and watch the sparks fly.
Cleo is a law enforcement officer (I can’t tell you what kind without giving away one of the big plot twists), and therefore she’s very aware of the full weight of the law. So you can imagine her discomfort when I stuck her in the passenger seat of a getaway car driven by her old high school sweetheart — who is now a con artist on the run from the law.
When he asks for her help, claiming he’s been framed, what should she do? Arrest him on the spot? Call for backup? Or give him the benefit of the doubt, and allow him a chance to try to clear his name?
Just to liven things up, I added another layer on top of the situation: he doesn’t know she’s a cop. That changes everything.
Now, she has to ask herself how much she’s obligated to tell him, and how much she’s willing to trust him. The last time she saw him was years ago, on the night of the fire that killed his parents — the same fire that also claimed the life of her father.
To say that these two characters have a bit of emotional baggage is an understatement. But it gives them something to try to avoid talking about at all costs.
That makes for an awkward road trip. Especially when she realizes she still has feelings for him.
But what makes Cleo really interesting is that she’s got a bad streak. She’s not against bending a few rules in pursuit of the greater good. If she needs to color outside the lines in order to bring down the bad guy, she’ll do it.
Once I realized this about her, I decided to turn up the heat. I didn’t make the villain of The Spider Thief just any bad guy. He’s the one who killed her ex-boyfriend’s parents — and set the fire that killed Cleo’s father.
Suddenly, Cleo has every reason to stay in the car with her ex-boyfriend. Along the way, she has a chance to learn something about herself, and find out the truth about the scruffy boy she once knew, who is now a man on a mission.
For me, the real challenge with Cleo was creating a character tormented enough to feel sorry for, yet strong enough to make you cheer her onward. Cleo has a house echoing with the painful memories of what she’s lost. She also has a gun safe full of high-tech firepower, and a plan to bring a murderer to justice.
But more than anything, she has a hole in her soul, an inner wound she has never let heal. And the only way she can get past that is by letting in a man who stands opposite all of her ideals – a man she’s falling for all over again.
Can she find some common ground between her willingness to bend the rules, and his outlaw ways of setting things right?
That’s what makes a fascinating story, to me. Watching people stand up for their beliefs, and yet learn enough from their challenges to emerge as stronger, more complex individuals, ready to save the day.
How about you? What makes a story fascinating to you? Leave me a comment, and get a free copy of THE SPIDER THIEF, Part 1: Stolen Memory ebook!
When an outlaw unearths an ancient gold spider statue and falls prey to its memory-stealing curse, his only shot at survival lies with the woman he left behind years ago — a highly-trained agent harboring a deadly secret. A gripping serial thriller from “a new talent well worth exploring deep into the night.” (NYT bestselling author James Rollins). You can get the first novella in the series FREE at his website
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