Without a real,
detailed "life," characters will limit your plot and story.
|Characters with a history and activities outside of your storyline provides depth.|
Josie Baylor-Bates, the heroine of my Witness series of legal thrillers, had
a painful birth. In the beginning, I envisioned her as tough woman.
Disillusioned with her career as a top criminal attorney Josie would retreat to
an ocean side town where, with a female law partner, she would dedicate herself
to solving women's legal problems.
There was logic to my plan. The majority of fiction readers are women. Strong
women characters sell. Ergo, strong women characters who deal with women's
issues would sell well.
Sadly, I forgot one little thing. I forgot to make my heroine interesting.
This one-dimensional Josie felt dour. She lacked energy. There was nothing in
her life that she cherished. No lover, no children, nothing. Because she
dealt only with the problems of women she seldom came in contact with men. She
lived at the beach yet didn’t enjoy the beautiful setting.
I had envisioned one scene where the perpetrator watched her through the
window of her condominium. Nice scene. But to have Josie locked into a sterile
apartment-like condominium with security doors made it impossible for her to
interact with the beach town around her.
Finally, Josie’s partner was a feminist lawyer. That characterization limited
the types of cases and clients the two women would take on.
In short, I had constrained the content of my character’s life so severely
that there was no room for emotional growth or physical activity. With such a
forbidding – dare I say depressive – character, the plots became equally gray
and dark instead of on-the-edge-of-your-seat thrilling.
Recognizing this, I set about giving Josie Bates an extreme makeover. The
objective was to give her a background that led to plot considerations instead
of restricting plot movement.
First, I gave her interests outside of the law.
Josie, I decided, had played volleyball on a scholarship at USC. She was a
military brat used to being self-reliant. She owned a home that had easy access
to the beach and she was remodeling it herself.
Josie immediately brightened with these few changes. She suddenly had a body
type – lean and tall and, above all, strong. This meant that if she found
herself in physically challenging situations she could handle them.
By making her an athlete, the reader also knew that she was competitive and
knew how to win. Very important if Josie was going to be a believable attorney
and an attractive woman.
I gave her a new place to live, moving her from Venice Beach, California to
Hermosa Beach where volleyball tournaments tie together an entire community.
In Hermosa, it was more likely that she would have long-term friends, not
transient ones. She would also be open to the people who came to Hermosa to
enjoy a shared passion – volleyball. Her home became very important to the
development of her character and not just her hometown – her house.
Now we’re rolling!
Stay tuned next month for Part II.
Rebecca Forster's excerpt from Privileged Witness.
Rebecca Forster, a USA Today bestseller,
began writing on a crazy dare. Upwards of 22 books later, she concentrates on
legal thrillers. Currently on the stand are Privileged Witness (Signet, 2006),
Silent Witness (Signet, 2005) and Hostile Witness (Signet, 2004). She is married
to a Superior Court judge and has two sons. http://www.rebeccaforster.com