This will be my last post, other than to respond to any questions. I hope you've picked up a tip or two this month.

Here are a few more things to consider when developing your characters.


Characters can't exist in a vacuum.


Your characters should have some way to make connections, to be able to hang loose and have someone understand them.

For my cops, they've usually got partners to bounce things off of. For my heroines, (and the one female cop character I created [NOWHERE TO HIDE] had quit the force when the book opened, so although I eschew stereotypes, so far all my cop/covert ops agent protagonists have been male), I like to give them another female friend to help show more about their characters.

And, I'd like to point out that there are very big differences in the way men and women relate to others. Women are hard wired to be nurturing; male relationships are generally hierarchical in nature. So women do tend to talk things out. If a woman tells her husband she's had a bad day at work, he's going to want to solve her problem, when in fact, the woman probably just wants someone to listen.

At any rate, in an earlier posting, I mentioned secondary characters, and having them be sounding boards is a major function. In FINDING SARAH, it's Maggie, Sarah's retired schoolteacher neighbor who serves this function. In NOWHERE TO HIDE, Colleen bonds almost immediately with a woman she meets at the Y.

I've also created books where my characters are new to the area, and they don't have anyone to turn to. This can create some good tension because if they're stuck with each other, you're going to have that male-female hard wiring thing getting between them.

But secondary characters have to have their own agendas, or they'll be cardboard. They must struggle against their limitations as much as they prosper through their prowess.

Characters need depth. Fearless characters are never heroic. Brave characters are.

Every protagonist needs an antagonist. The antagonist can be the character himself, nature, or another person. The function is the same: to oppose the hero.

Details help add depth to your characters. Find some small, personal details that make your characters stand out.

Make sure you work your characters into the setting you've created. If they belong to a particular level of society, they have to behave that way consistently. A character's status and prejudices should follow the character wherever he or she goes.

Characters can have quirks


A recent visit home triggered some thoughts about other ways to approach dealing with the characters who populate our novels. We've all met people with identifying characteristics. Sometimes it's physical appearance. Sometimes it's an unconscious gesture. Sometimes it's speech patterns.


All of the above are ways to help your reader see and understand your character. But what about some other idiosyncrasies? Does your character have an endearing habit? What about an annoying one? Is the character aware of how the habit might affect other characters on the page? Does he care?


You know those clever little magnets that you put on the dishwasher that say "clean" on one side and "dirty" on the other? In our house, they would have been a waste of money because my mother never left clean dishes in the dishwasher. As soon as it finished running, it was emptied. The one night she complained about how tired she was, but couldn't go to bed until the dishwasher finished, my dad told her she could do it in the morning. No go. We finally agreed to wait until the cycle was over, and one of us would empty it.


She also virtually washed the dishes before putting them in. And our running joke was that she would have the dishes done before we finished eating dessert.


And, she always set the breakfast table before going to bed. However, she didn't do a complete setting. She would only put out the appropriate plates and cutlery. Cereal bowls and a spoon, or a plate and fork for eggs. Now, once my brother and I were riding the bus to school and out of the house very early, she left us to get our own breakfasts … but she wanted to know the night before what we would feel like eating in the morning. It was easier to say something, then make the switch ourselves the next day. From time to time, she'd leave a frying pan on the stove with two eggs in it, where she'd written "eat me" on the shells, so she expected us to cook them for our breakfast.


Now, decades later, she hasn't changed at all. When I was visiting last week, I still got grilled in the evening about what I wanted for breakfast the next day.


Little things like this can add interest to a scene. Just remember that there has to be another plot-related reason for the scene to exist. Showing quirks isn't reason enough to justify a scene. But if a character idiosyncrasy can create some kind of conflict or tension, and throw an obstacle in the way of your character, it can add depth to your story. Or, it can serve to bring characters closer together as they recognize the habit for what it is.


In closing, writing opens a portal between the conscious and subconscious minds. Characters are a part of the author; they're bits and pieces of the author's subconscious peeking through. And, characterization is not character. It's not a description of his wavy brown hair, his muscular physique, his size twelve shoes.


For example: You're driving down the road. You see an accident. There's an unconscious man lying next to his car. Other cars speed on by. One stops. A man gets out and rushes to the victim, kneeling beside him. What's your impression of his character? He's offering first aid, so he's a good person, right? But what if he takes the man's wallet and then walks away?

It's not what the character does, it's
why he does it. Character is revealed in a character's actions, behavior, activity and dialogue.

And one last thing ... I want to thank those who left comments or asked questions. If Doreen, Julie, Gloria, Jewelsol, Moonlightvirgo and Wendy will email me at
bookstore@terryodell.com, I'll have something for you. (I told you leaving comments might be worth your while.)

Thanks to Karenne and Coffee Time Romance for letting me have this time with you.