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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Making Characters Real

I am so pleased to introduce today's guest blogger, who is herself a real character. Suzanne McLeod is the author of the series set in a contemporary London about dangerous faeries, seductive vampires, bureaucratic goblins, magic, mayhem and murder!

I met Suzanne when I interviewed her for the OWW newsletter and I became an instant fan. She has graciously agreed to guest blog today and talk about how she develops the characterization in her novels.

I give you...Suzanne McLeod


Making Characters Real

Hi, my name’s Suzanne, I’m an author, I’m five four tall, I weigh a hundred and cough pounds, I’m of undivulged age with long brown hair, dark brown eyes and I’m currently wearing black jeans, a grey t-shirt and a mint green sweater. And I’d like to thank Maria for inviting me to guest blog about how I create my characters.

Strange as it might seem from my introduction, appearance is literally the last thing I think about when it comes to characters, because after all if you met me in real life, what does hair colour, eye colour or even the colour of my clothes tell you about me and the type of person I am?

Not much, other than I dress for comfort and have very little fashion sense. :o)

But what if I crush your fingers when we shake hands, what if my palm is damp and sweaty with nerves, what if I babble over-enthusiastically about how wonderful it is to meet you, what if I leer at your cleavage instead of making eye-contact, or maybe I give you a perfunctory look and then disdainfully dismiss you to talk to the person behind you. Now you’re getting a much better [or worse *g*] impression of me.

And impressions are good; they help you form an opinion about what I’m like and you automatically react to them. Maybe you’re sympathetic because I’m anxious, or you think I’m like some cute puppy you want to pat, or that I’m such a jerk you decide I’m the last person you want to spend five minutes making stilted small talk with.

But while our brief meeting might give you a momentary snapshot of me, it doesn’t tell you the reasons behind my behaviour. And of course in real life you’re never going to know that my sweaty palms are because a pack of pixies have turned up unannounced and are about to decimate the buffet I’ve so painstakingly prepared, or that I’ve ignored you so that the demon possessing me doesn’t decide to strike you dead on the spot!

Neither catastrophe is one I want to happen *g*.

And that’s where I start creating characters.

I find out what they want.

‘Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.’
- Kurt Vonnegut

But while finding out what a character wants – whether it’s how to save the buffet so there’s something left for the guests, or even how to save the guests themselves – is an essential part of making characters real and believable, even more important is discovering *why* characters want what they want.

Until I know why, I can’t add the right nuances to the characters’ actions.

So *why* exactly do I ignore you and stop the demon from killing you?

Is it because I’m appalled at the prospect of snuffing out your life? Or do I have a more practical concern like how much mess it will make and will I ever get the blood out of the carpet? Or could it be I’m looking to satisfy the demon’s demands with just The Right Victim. Or maybe I know that if I let the demon have its way, we will all be sucked straight into a fiery hell dimension and life as we know it will end forever . . .

What do you think?

Yep, you’ve got it in one *g* I’m looking for just The Right Victim: that disdainful look I gave you says it all!

Of course, not everything characters want is of world ending proportions.

When Genny Taylor, the main character in my series, has to deal with recalcitrant magic what she wants is liquorice torpedoes.

‘Standing on the hot pavement, staring at the clear blue of the sky, I let the heat of the day burn away the air-conditioned chill of the restaurant. The magic fizzed and churned restlessly inside me. I dug into my bag and pulled out three liquorice torpedoes, stuffed them into my mouth and crunched down hard, shuddering as the sugar hit my system. The magic ate the sugar up and I willed it into a sleepy calm.’
- extract from chapter two of The Sweet Scent of Blood

The reasons why Genny wants liquorice torpedoes are simple: the sugar helps her to control the magic, the sweets are a practical option to carry round since they don’t melt like chocolate and the liquorice centre mutes her cravings for vampire venom*.

So once I know why my characters want what they want, I find it easy enough to work out everything about them from what they eat, what they decide to wear, how they speak and react to other characters, where they live, who they decide to kill and even if they’re going to be brave enough to save the world or evil enough to raise the demons of hell.

Of course after figuring all that out . . . then comes the hard part; the actual writing.

Thanks again to Maria for having me. To celebrate the release of the print copy of Maria’s book – Touch of Fire – and the paperback of my own book – The Sweet Scent of Blood – at the end of April, leave a comment telling us which is your favourite candy [and why it is, if you want to] before noon, Sunday (cst) to be entered into a drawing to win a signed copy of The Sweet Scent of Blood.

Read chapters one and two here.

Vampire ‘venom’ – a combination of hormones and proteins injected through biting which boosts production of red blood cells and also addicts the victim, turning them into an ideal blood-slave – one with lots of hot thick blood on tap, and who is dying (literally, on occasion) to have a vamp sink fangs into them.

Okay, folks. Tell us your favorite candy before noon, Sunday, 4-19 and you may win a signed copy of The Sweet Scent of Blood! This is an awesome book, so post away. Suzanne is definitely an author to watch.

Suzanne's Website
Suzanne's Blog
Suzanne on Twitter


Judi said...

Ohhh, do I have to pick just one candy? LOL My latest addiction would be Planters Chocolate covered Almonds. Evil chocolate, but the almonds are good for you right? *grins*

I've been dying to get my hands on a copy of Suzanne's book!

Shelley Munro said...

I'm a big fan of M & Ms. All those Es in the coloring. Either chocolate or peanut - I'm not fussy. ;)

I enjoyed your post, Suzanne. I was writing yesterday and needed to slot in an eye color. I couldn't remember what color I'd given the character, but their personality and quirks - I knew those without even thinking about it.

J.K. Coi said...

Great post, Suzanne! Motivation is key, and it's very true that all of our characters from the hero and heroine, to the most minor of them, need to want something--even though they don't always get it.

Congrats on your release.

I love sour candies.

Rylie said...

Thanks for the post -- I've been looking forward to reading Suzanne's book.

I love Reese's peanut butter eggs -- the regular peanut butter cups are okay, but I like the egg version more for some reason.

Dave-Brendon de Burgh said...

Wow, thanks for the guest-post and the opportunity to win a signed copy! :-) Being in South Africa, I'm sure most of the 'candy' we've got here would be completely unknown in the States or the UK, but here's mine: Astros. Like smarties, but completely spherical, all different colours and each one delicious! They come in a rectangular box that opens like a box of cigaretters, and if you don't finish the whole box in less than five minutes then your sweet tooth has been dead a while. :-) Awesome stuff!

catie said...

So hard to choose! I'm one of those depends-on-the-day people; sometimes, nothing other than a piece of milk chocolate Dove will do. Others I want a fruity crunch like Skittles. Hmmm...all time, absolute favorite though? Gotta be these little buttercream morsels from See's Candies. Yummy!

Mike Keyton said...

Hi Suzanne,
That was a good post even without the bonus of the candy competition. For what it's worth, my all time favourite candy is the 'Uncle Joe Mint-ball'. One used to last me a whole paper-round when I was a kid, though you couldn't walk too briskly incase you choked. Unfortunately they're now a little smaller, perhaps a little less hot. Still has nostalgia going for it though.

Anonymous said...

Loved the character breakdown!

My favorite candies are the chocolate-espresso truffles made by BoojaBooja. Soooo delicious!

Suzanne McLeod said...

Hi Judi, chocolate covered almonds yum! *has craving* *g*

Hi Shelley, personality and quirks says it all :-)

Hi J.K. and yes, be evil to your characters, never give them what they want ;)

Hi Rylie, I've never heard of peanut butter eggs, but I love peanut butter sandwiches :-)

Hi Dave, smarties rock!

Hi Catie, skittles are always great and y'know maybe they've even got some Vit C going for them . . . *g*

Hi Mike, choking's not such a good idea, but any sweet that lasts that long is a great one in my book :-)

Hi Stephanie, ohh coffee and chocolate together . . .

Thanks everyone for stopping by and sharing your sweet tooths :-) *rushes off to find some chocolate*